Pro Bono Legal Services Survey Results (2002)

by Adam Whitcombe, Chief Knowledge Officer

Introduction

This paper reports on the results of the Pro Bono Legal Services Survey jointly conducted by the Law Society of British Columbia and the Canadian Bar Association (B.C. Branch).

The purpose of the survey was to collect sufficient information to publicly acknowledge the pro bono work already being done by lawyers in B.C. and to identify the barriers to effective delivery of pro bono legal services. The survey, including results, can be found at Appendix A.

The survey was sent to 10,330 members and articling students of the Law Society of British Columbia. In total, 619 responses were received. This translates to a response frequency of 6%. This is consistent with other issue-specific surveys that the Law Society has distributed in its regular mailings.

If the respondents are a random sample of the legal population in British Columbia, the results of the survey should be reliable +/- 3.8%, 19 times out of 20. However, the high non-response rate increases the possibility that the respondents are not a random sample. While the possibility of non-response bias cannot be ruled out, an evaluation of the respondent characteristics and the early and late responses suggests that the respondents are representative of the total population of lawyers in the province. A more detailed analysis of the reliability of the results can be found in Appendix B.

This paper is divided into three parts. The first part deals with who is providing pro bono legal services, what services they are providing and why. The second part deals with the respondents' opinions about lawyers providing pro bono legal services. The third part deals with respondents' views on the Law Society/CBA Pro Bono Initiative.

Part I: Providing pro bono legal services

Respondents were asked whether or not they were currently providing pro bono legal services. The question defined "pro bono" as "legal services for persons of limited means or for non-profit organizations, without expectation of a fee." Based on this definition, 78% of the respondents indicated that they were providing pro bono legal services.

Those who said they were currently providing pro bono legal services were more likely to be insured, practising lawyers with fifteen or more years of call, practising on their own or in a firm of 2 to 5 lawyers.

Of those respondents who said they provide pro bono legal services, 58% indicated they provide the services to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations that primarily address the needs of persons of limited means. Just under 44%provide the services to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights.

Respondents were asked to indicate the types of pro bono legal services they provide. The following table shows the responses for those respondents providing pro bono legal services.

Types of pro bono services provided

Non-profit/society law

266 55%

Other

170 38%

Poverty law

147 31%

Family law

148 31%

Criminal law

87 18%

Immigration law

29 6%

Non-profit organizations and societies benefit most from pro bono legal services, with more than half the respondents indicating that they provide pro bono legal services to these groups. For nearly 30% of those who said they provide pro bono legal services, this is the only type of service they provide. On the other hand, over one third of the respondents said they provide types of pro bono legal services other than those listed in the survey. A number indicated that they provide pro bono legal services in relation to aboriginal law, civil litigation, creditor/debtor law and wills and estates.

In a typical month, 50% of the respondents said they provide more than 5 hours; while the average was 8 hours per month. Two respondents indicated that they were providing 60 hours per month on average while just over 6% of those who said they were providing pro bono legal services did not answer this question.

Seventy-six per cent of the respondents said that they perform volunteer community service other than providing pro bono legal services. Fifty per cent of the respondents spend 40 hours or less annually on volunteer community service, with an average for all respondents who answered this question of 36 hours per year.

Those respondents who said that they currently provide pro bono legal services were more likely to say that they perform other voluntary community services, with 79% of these respondents indicating that they perform other volunteer community service compared with only 66% of those who said that they do not provide pro bono legal services.

Similarly, those respondents who indicated that they work for clients whose fees are paid by the Legal Services Society were much more likely to say that they provide pro bono legal services than those who do no work for legal aid clients.

Two-thirds of respondents who provide pro bono legal services indicated the most significant reason they do so is professional responsibility, as reflected in the following table.

Most significant reason cited for providing pro bono

Professional responsibility

317 66%

Volunteerism

112 23%

Market exposure

6 1%

Educational experience

5 1%

Other

45 9%

Respondents who do not currently provide pro bono legal services were asked to identify the most significant reason.

Most significant reason cited for not providing pro bono

Family commitments

21 16%

Other volunteer commitments

9 7%

Government responsibility

3 2%

Not interested

6 5%

No firm support

12 9%

Other

79 61%

More than 60% of respondents who do not currently provide pro bono legal services indicated "Other" as the most significant reason.

One reason given for not providing pro bono legal services was the respondents' lack of insurance, while a number of respondents indicated that all of their time was consumed trying to make a living or working long hours trying to meet billing targets.

Interestingly enough, over 80% of those who said that they were not interested in providing pro bono legal services indicated that they perform voluntary community service other than pro bono legal services.

Of those who are not currently providing pro bono legal services, over 70% said it was not likely that they would provide pro bono legal services in the future.

Likelihood of non-providers providing pro bono services in the future

Very likely

9 7%

Likely

26 21%

Not likely

87 71%

Part II: Opinions about providing pro bono legal services

The survey sought respondents' opinions about several issues relating to the provision of pro bono legal services.

The first question was whether the respondents believe that lawyers should voluntarily provide a minimum number of hours of pro bono legal services annually. The responses to this question were almost evenly divided between those who agreed and those who did not.

Do you believe that lawyers in British Columbia should voluntarily provide a minimum number of hours of pro bono annually?

Strongly agree

99 17%

Agree somewhat

180 30%

Disagree somewhat

102 17%

Strongly disagree

168 28%

Don't know

42 8%

Those who agreed were asked to indicate the minimum number of hours annually that they thought lawyers should provide. The average response was 46 hours per year with more than half of the respondents indicating that they thought 30 or more hours was appropriate.

Those who disagreed expressed concerns about being coerced into volunteering by guidelines or commented that pro bono should be promoted but not mandatory. Although those who agreed were less likely to comment on the question of a minimum number of hours, one respondent did state that he or she thought all lawyers should be required to provide some level of pro bono service as it was the only way to ensure that we all do our share to ensure that the legal system is accessible to everyone.

Respondents were also asked whether they thought it was important that lawyers who provide pro bono legal services be formally recognized and acknowledged in a public manner. Once again, responses were almost equally divided between those who agreed and those who did not.

Do you think it is important that lawyers who provide pro bono be formally recognized and acknowledged in a public manner?

Strongly agree

99 17%

Agree somewhat

177 30%

Disagree somewhat

151 25%

Strongly disagree

117 20%

Don't know

54 8%

Some of those who agreed suggested that lawyers who provide pro bono legal services should be profiled in Law Society materials and commended for their contribution, while others preferred general, as opposed to individual, recognition of the substantial pro bono work undertaken by lawyers in B.C. On the other hand, some respondents who disagreed commented that a genuine willingness to do pro bono work is the result of a caring and giving heart, which is not something that can be elicited by any reward system. One respondent found ". the whole idea repugnant. I do a significant amount of pro bono and community work. I want no credit for it."

Respondents were also asked whether they would support the creation of a non-profit service to promote, support and serve as a resource to organizations and lawyers delivering pro bono legal services. While 48% of the respondents agreed they would support the creation of such a service and 34% indicated they would not, there was a significant minority who were undecided.

It has been suggested that pro bono in B.C. could be enhanced through a non-profit service that would not deliver pro bono directly, but would promote, support and serve as a resource to organizations and lawyers in delivering pro bono. Would you support the creation of such a service?

Strongly agree

83 14%

Agree somewhat

197 34%

Disagree somewhat

93 16%

Strongly disagree

105 18%

Don't know

109 19%

Respondents who currently provide pro bono legal services were less likely to support the creation of a non-profit service than those who are not currently providing any pro bono legal services.

Those who indicated support for the non-profit service were often highly enthusiastic: "This is a wonderful initiative and I wish you every success." "I applaud the creation of the pro bono committee." Those who did not agree or who didn't know expressed reservations about the impact of this initiative on government support for legal aid, about the creation of a bureaucracy without benefits necessarily being delivered to those whom it is intended to assist and, in some cases, outright annoyance at the initiative: "I resent that the law society is doing this - and spending money on it." "Do not create another bureaucracy that costs, and distances lawyers from others in community."

While the responses and the comments indicate some support for a voluntary minimum number of hours of pro bono legal service, for recognition of lawyers who provide pro bono legal services and for a non-profit service to support the delivery of pro bono legal services, a majority of the respondents were undecided or opposed to the propositions implicit in the questions.

Part III: The Law Society/CBA Pro Bono Initiative

The final group of questions concerned the particulars of the Law Society/CBA Pro Bono Initiative.

Respondents were asked to indicate what legal services they thought should be included in the Initiative.

What legal services do you think should be included in the
Law Society/CBA Pro bono Initiative?

Legal services to persons not eligible for legal aid

399 64%

Legal services to organizations that address the needs of persons of limited means

317 51%

Legal services to secure civil rights and liberties

270 44%

Other volunteer or community service

182 29%

Don't know/no opinion

100 16%

Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of all respondents thought the Initiative should include the provision of legal services to those who were not eligible for legal aid. On the other hand, nearly 25% of the respondents did not answer this question or indicated that they did not know or had no opinion.

For the purposes of the Law Society/CBA Pro Bono Initiative, respondents were asked to indicate whether they thought pro bono legal services should include work undertaken in expectation of a substantially reduced fee. Just over half of the respondents thought pro bono legal services should include such work.

For the purposes of the Law Society/CBA Pro bono Initiative, do you think that pro bono should include work undertaken with the expectation of a substantially reduced fee?

Yes

323 56%

No

151 26%

Don't know/no opinion

107 18%

Respondents were also asked to indicate whether they thought pro bono legal services should include work undertaken in expectation of a fee where the fee was not received because the client could not pay. More than half the respondents thought pro bono legal services should not include such work.

For the purposes of the Law Society/CBA Pro bono Initiative, do you think that pro bono should include work undertaken in expectation of a fee, when that fee is ultimately not received because the client cannot pay?

Yes

143 25%

No

303 53%

Don't know/no opinion

130 23%