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The need for pro bono legal services is immense and growing, but it is not enough to simply ask for more volunteers. The crisis in the courts and the precipitous drop in resources for legal services, combined with increased demand for legal assistance, have changed how we must approach pro bono legal services. Among the essential changes is amending the rules that govern in-house attorneys providing pro bono. In many states, in-house attorneys are an untapped resource. We know firsthand that in-house lawyers are committed to making a difference, while their companies are increasingly supporting and encouraging them to engage in pro bono. Corporate Pro Bono, a Washington-based organization, has spent the past 10 years developing tools and providing support to maximize this resource.

If only it were that simple. Many state rules allow in-house attorneys licensed in another jurisdiction to work for an employer-client, but do not allow those same attorneys to provide pro bono legal services. Those states that expressly permit nonlocally admitted attorneys to undertake pro bono often handcuff them with restrictions that are unnecessary, insulting and unjustifiable in the face of the crisis in access to justice.

UNNECESSARY RESTRICTIONS

Although restrictions vary by jurisdiction, there are several common to a significant number of states. The most common requirement is that nonlocally admitted in-house attorneys work with an approved legal aid organization. Legal aid programs across the United States are stretched thin as it is. Requiring already overworked legal aid lawyers to act as supervisors unnecessarily increases the burden on legal aid organizations. Instead of providing increased capacity to these organizations, such rules limit the number of cases they take. Moreover, by restricting in-house attorneys to only providing assistance to clients served by legal aid programs, these provisions limit the avenues through which those in need are able to receive legal assistance. It is our belief that to best meet the needs of low-income clients, in-house counsel should have the ability to work with all potential pro bono sources, including community groups and law firms with established pro bono programs.

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