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State Seeks to Increase Availability of Free Legal Help

Supreme Court theorizes mandatory reporting of pro bono hours will spur lawyers to donate more

An Indiana Supreme Court task force plans to submit recommendations next week for how to increase the amount of free legal services Hoosier attorneys donate to the poor.

The Supreme Court has already decided against mandatory pro bono services, instead asking a task force to suggest ways to implement mandatory reporting of pro bono hours. Indiana Tax Judge Martha Wentworth, who chairs the state Pro Bono Commission, says eight other states have gone that route, and have found the number of pro bono hours went up, possibly because the requirement calls it to attorneys' attention.

The task force has been considering making the number of pro bono hours a required field to fill in when attorneys complete their annual registration forms online. It's also pondering other administrative issues, including how to define pro bono work.

The justices will make the final decision on how to implement the requirement. Wentworth anticipates any new requirements would take effect next year.

Wentworth says it's essential to make legal services available to all so people don't get the impression the system is tilted in favor of those with money. And she says pro bono work creates an avenue for giving young attorneys a taste of different areas of law.

Indiana's Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers currently suggest, but don't require, a goal of 50 hours of pro bono work a year.

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