Pro Bono Reporting



New Reporting Requirement for Minnesota Attorneys

Beginning in 2022, when completing your annual attorney registration statement, you will notice three additional required questions related to the aspirational goals stated in Rule 6.1 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct. Two questions ask about approximate hours spent the prior calendar year on pro bono service and activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession. An additional question, with a checkbox response, asks whether you provided financial support during the prior calendar year to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means. Your individual responses to these three new questions will not be made public. Responses will be reported in the aggregate to provide important insight about pro bono service and the contributions of Minnesota lawyers to organizations serving the legal needs of people of limited means.

Rule 25. Uniform Reporting of Pro Bono Service and Financial Contributions. 
As part of the Lawyer Registration Statement, all attorneys who are authorized to practice law in Minnesota must report for the preceding calendar year: (1) the approximate number of hours of pro bono service provided as defined in Rule 6.1 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct; and (2) whether the attorney has made any financial contributions to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

Rule 23(H). Pro Bono Service and Contribution Reporting Information.
Pro bono reporting and contribution information collected from lawyers and judges as part of the Lawyer Registration Statement is not accessible to the public. The Lawyer Registration Office may publish information based on reported pro bono and contribution data as directed or ordered by the court.



What Attorneys Need to Know


To whom does Rule 25 apply?
Attorneys who are authorized to practice law in Minnesota must report for the preceding calendar year, with the exception of attorneys who are employed by government entities and judges.


When does Rule 25 go into effect?
January 1, 2022. The first registration group of lawyers and judges who will see this on their registration statement are those due to report April 1, 2022.


How will attorneys report this information?
Attorneys will complete three questions during their annual attorney registration process:

  1. The approximate number of hours of service provided under Rules 6.1(a), 6.1(b)(1), and Rule 6.1(b)(2):
  2. The approximate number of hours provided under Rule 6.1(b)(3); and
  3. A checkbox indicating whether the lawyer contributed financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

Attorneys may answer “0” to questions 1 and 2 and “No” to the question regarding whether a financial contribution was made. There are no adverse consequences or penalties based on what attorneys report, and individual responses are not public information.


For what timeframe will attorneys report?

Regardless of when your lawyer registration statement and fee are due during a calendar year, you will report your pro bono hours and financial contributions for the preceding calendar year.   

It is important for statistical purposes that the information collected is consistent.  The lawyer registration process requires that lawyers complete their registration statement by the filing deadline.  To ensure that lawyers may both file their statements in a timely manner and that the information will be for a full calendar year, the first registration cycle where the information will be required is the April 1, 2022, reporting period for the full 2021 calendar year.  Lawyers whose fee is due on January 1, 2023 likewise will report on their pro bono hours and financial contributions for the full calendar year 2021.   

Reporting Deadline

Calendar Year

April 1, 2022

2021

July 1, 2022

2021

October 1, 2022

2021

January 1, 2023

2021

April 1, 2023

2022

July 1, 2023

2022

 


What do the two categories for reporting pro bono hours mean?

Question 1 applies to legal services provided under Rules 6.1(a), 6.1(b)(1) and Rule 6.1(b)(2): 

  • Without fee or expectation of fee, or at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means;
  • Without fee or expectation of fee to certain organizations in matters designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means;
  • At no fee or at a substantially reduced fee to “individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate.”

Question 2 applies to service under Rule 6.1(b)(3): “participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession.” Examples of these activities include engaging in bar association activities, serving on judicial branch committees, volunteering for Mock Trial, promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, public speaking on legal issues, and teaching continuing legal education courses to lawyers.  


What organizations qualify for financial support?
The language of the rule is “Organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.” The policy underlying this rule focuses on the legal profession supporting the delivery of legal services to people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. So you can check “yes” on the form if you made a donation to an organization that:

  • Provides legal services: Staff or pro bono attorneys are providing direct legal representation.
  • Low income: Clients are screened for household income.

This includes all direct services civil legal aid organizations. Examples of organizations providing legal services to low income people include all those funded by the federal Legal Services Corporation, the direct service grantees of the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee (see list), and nonprofit organizations designated by the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee under the CLE for Pro Bono rule (see list).


Why is Rule 25 needed?
The new rule underscores the unique ability of lawyers to turn the ideal of access to justice into reality through pro bono service and support for civil legal services.

The widespread lack of access to our justice system is a crisis not just for our Minnesota communities, but for the legal profession and our system of justice. Legal aid attorneys are struggling to meet the legal needs of low-income Minnesotans. Many lawyers already provide a laudable amount of pro bono service, but overall, Minnesota has experienced a concerning decline in recent years in the number of attorneys who participate in pro bono service and the number of cases closed by pro bono attorneys.

While your individual responses will not be made public, Rule 25 will allow Minnesota to collect, for the first time, comprehensive data about pro bono service delivery in our state. It will heighten awareness of the urgent unmet legal needs of low-income Minnesotans and encourage more attorneys to participate in pro bono services throughout the state.


Why are financial contributions part of Rule 25?
More financial support is needed for both full time legal aid attorneys and their organizations, as well as for the “infrastructure” to support pro bono (i.e., pro bono programs with solid screening, referral, training, and support functions for volunteers). Asking about financial contributions as part of the rule underscores that these contributions are a critical part of the pro bono delivery system. In addition, Rule 6.1 encourages attorneys to financially support programs that serve low-income clients. As with the two new questions about hours of legal services and activities provided each calendar year, your individual response to the question about financial contributions will not be made public and will be aggregated to provide data about Minnesota attorneys overall.


Should I include contributions from my law firm on the registration form?
No. Rule 25 asks only for information about individual financial contributions and not institutional or law firm contributions.


What happens if an attorney does not provide the requested information?
Lawyers who do not include this information the first year the rule is in effect will be provided additional information reminding them that the information will be required as of January 1, 2023.

After January 1, 2023, the form will be incomplete without this information. For lawyers reporting online, the questions will be mandatory and you will not be able to complete the registration form without providing the information. For lawyers submitting paper filings, the form will be sent back to you and must be completed and returned by the deadline, similar to the process followed for trust account information. See Rule 14 of the Lawyer Registration Rules for additional information on non-compliant status.


What if an attorney didn’t track pro bono hours or doesn’t know the exact amount?
Rule 25 asks attorneys to report the approximate number of pro bono hours provided in the previous calendar year. An answer of “zero” hours is acceptable.


Will reported pro bono hours be made available to the public?
An individual’s reported information will not be accessible to the public or used in any disciplinary context. The information about an individual attorney’s pro bono hours and financial contributions will only be disclosed as part of aggregate data and as directed by the Court. (Rule 23(H))


Does an attorney need to formally screen clients for income in order to consider it pro bono services?
No, lawyers do not need to formally investigate clients to determine income eligibility. A good faith determination by the lawyer of client eligibility is sufficient.


Can attorneys decline to answer the question?
No. Under Rule 25, attorneys are required to answer the three new questions as part of the attorney registration process. However, attorneys can mark “0” pro bono hours and “No” financial contributions without consequence. As discussed above, until January 1, 2023 no penalty will result for failure to answer the reporting requirements.

The Supreme Court specifically decided that attorneys must answer these questions. One goal of Rule 25 is to capture complete information about pro bono service in our state; gathering accurate data requires all attorneys to answer, even if the answer is zero. Moreover, Rule 6.1 applies universally to all licensed attorneys, with the exception of judges and government employees as specifically outlined in Rule 25. Even if some attorneys choose not to do pro bono service or are prohibited for reasons connected with their employment, their answers of “0” will help provide a complete picture of the amount of pro bono service in the state.


Will the rule apply to judges and government attorneys?
Attorneys who are employed by government entities and judges are exempt from the reporting requirement established by this rule, but may voluntarily report services provided or financial contributions made if they so choose.


Can government or legal aid attorneys report any of their hours as pro bono hours under the rule
While we recognize the financial sacrifices that legal aid and government attorneys make in public service careers, any legal services provided as part of an attorney’s paid employment as a legal aid or government attorney should not be counted as pro bono hours under the rule.
 

Katy Drahos

Access to Justice Director
kdrahos@mnbars.org
612-278-6330