New rule should nudge lawyers to help poor
The state Supreme Court now requires that lawyers report their pro bono services.
THE preamble to Hawaii's rules for lawyers' conduct states that they should "devote professional time and civic influence" in behalf of people who cannot afford legal help. However, a group of legal organizations reports that most lawyers in Hawaii neglect to do any work for free.
They should heed the call by the report and by Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon to abide by their ethical responsibility.
A study by the Access to Justice Hui found that 77 percent of the state's low-income residents are unable to obtain legal assistance when they need it. The percentage of lawyers who don't provide free services is not known because they have not been required to report such information, and the Hawaii State Bar Association's board of directors rejected a proposal in July to require reporting of free -- pro bono -- services.
In a recent speech to the association's Young Lawyers' Division, Moon said he was "totally disappointed and dismayed" by the rejection of the proposed rule.
Fortunately, the state Supreme Court last month adopted a requirement that all lawyers report whether they have provided free services. Without such a requirement, Moon said, it is impossible to determine "just how well or how badly" they are adhering to their ethical responsibility to the poor and "how much effort is needed to encourage attorneys to do better."
Moon said 27.4 percent of Hawaii's nearly 7,000 lawyers voluntarily reported providing free services last year. If lawyers in Hawaii respond to the new requirement as they have in other states that have such a rule, it "will significantly increase the number of pro bono hours," the Access to Justice Hui predicted. The bar association should be ashamed that it forced the high court's hand.
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