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Statement Supporting Pro Bono Legal Services

October 18, 2019

The origins of our justice system are centuries old.  And for just as long of a time, attorneys and judges have grappled with how to ensure a justice system applies laws equally to all persons.  American legal history from its earliest days offers examples of pro bono representation.  The Latin phrase is pro bono publico, which translates into English as “for the public good.”  Pro bono representation in this context means legal work performed voluntarily and without pay, using the professional skills of attorneys to provide legal services for those persons unable to afford those services.

The need for pro bono services is as urgent today as it has been over the centuries.  The Iowa Access to Justice Commission 2019 Report highlights the need for pro bono services in Iowa, noting that The Iowa State Bar Association reported that in 2015 “more than one million Iowans have difficulty affording an attorney to handle basic legal needs.”

Many Iowans of limited means are unable to afford legal services to address their civil legal problems. National estimates are that 80% of low-income persons in the United States cannot afford critical legal assistance.  The problem extends further, however, than many may realize.  Recent reports indicate that the legal needs of 40-60% of middle-class persons go unmet.  These legal needs include fundamental aspects of living: loss of a home or job, the well-being of children, access to health benefits, access to veterans’ benefits, personal safety, and liberty.

Attorneys, as officers of the court, and recognizing their unique role in society, have long made outstanding efforts to fill the “justice gap,” the difference between the legal needs of persons and the resources available to address those needs.  Legal service organizations, such as Iowa Legal Aid, and volunteer attorneys provide substantial contributions to fill the gap.

For example, according to the Office of Professional Regulation, Iowa attorneys in calendar year 2018 provided a record number of 43,348 hours of pro bono legal services to charitable organizations that were unable to afford legal services.  Also, in calendar year 2018, Iowa attorneys provided 89,484 hours of pro bono legal services to persons of limited means who could not afford such assistance.  These are impressive numbers and the Iowa Supreme Court commends the legal profession for all of its efforts to satisfy the unmet legal needs of Iowans.

Unfortunately, there remains a substantial gap between available legal services and the demand for such services.

The American Bar Association has designated the week of October 20-26, 2019, as the National Celebration of Pro Bono to recognize the valuable pro bono contributions attorneys make throughout the year and to increase pro bono participation across the nation to address the unmet needs of Americans for legal services.

Therefore, the Iowa Supreme Court recognizes the week of October 20-26, 2019, as the National Celebration of Pro Bono.

The supreme court recognizes that many Iowa attorneys serve the public good and honor their professional commitment by donating thousands of hours of pro bono services and making financial contributions to legal service organizations and pro bono programs. The supreme court commends these attorneys for their important contributions, which benefit our state, our justice system, our communities and, most of all, the clients they serve.

The supreme court continues to urge all Iowa attorneys to devote at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year.

The supreme court encourages all judges to promote pro bono service by attorneys. To this end, the supreme court encourages judges to write and speak in support of pro bono service, recruit attorneys to do pro bono service, participate in events to honor and recognize attorneys who do pro bono service, train attorneys for pro bono service, make appropriate administrative accommodations for cases involving litigants receiving pro bono services, and give advisory assistance to pro bono programs.

For More Information:

Tim Eckley, timothy.eckley@iowacourts.gov

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