Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Pro Bono Efforts to Be Required of Law Firms Seeking State Contracts
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Law firms seeking state contracts will have to demonstrate a commitment to pro bono work under legislation signed by Gov. Gray Davis.
Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said his bill is intended to reaffirm the importance of pro bono service to the practice of law in California.
“Without legislative action to bolster pro bono activities, there is a serious risk that the provision of critical pro bono legal services will continue to substantially decrease,” according to the declaration on intent in Assembly Bill 913.
The governor signed the bill into law Sunday.
The legislation takes effect Jan. 1, 2003, giving law firms planning to bid for state contracts sufficient time to develop pro bono programs.
The bill calls for firms seeking contracts of $50,000 or more to certify that they will make a good faith effort while the contract is in effect to meet the lesser of two guidelines—-an average of 30 pro bono hours for each of the firm’s full-time lawyers practicing in California, or hours equal to 10 percent of the contract amount.
The legislation provides that “failure to make a good faith effort may be cause for nonrenewal of a state contract for legal services and may be taken into account when determining the award of future contracts with the state for legal services.”
For firms that fall short of the numerical guidelines, the measure sets forth a variety of factors to consider in determining whether the “good faith effort” standard has been met. Contracting agencies are to consider:
•the actual number of hours of pro bono legal services provided by the firm during the term of the contract;
•the firm’s efforts to obtain pro bono legal work from legal services programs, pro bono programs, and other relevant communities or groups;
•the firm’s history of providing pro bono legal services, or other activities of the firm that evidence a good faith effort to provide pro bono legal services such as the adoption of a pro bono policy or the creation of a pro bono committee;
•the types of pro bono legal services provided, including the quantity and complexity of cases as well as the nature of the relief sought; and
•the extent to which the failure to provide the hours of pro bono legal services set forth in the certification is the result of extenuating circumstances unforeseen at the time of the certification.
Although the primary focus of the legislation is pro bono service performed during the life of the state contract, agencies are also required to consider a firm’s pro bono record during the previous 12 months and award the contract accordingly, “other things being equal.”
The measure does not apply to legal services contracts. In other words, lawyers and firms seeking state contracts to represent low-income or middle-income clients in civil, criminal or administrative matters do not also have to demonstrate pro bono efforts.
It also does not apply to appointment of counsel by judicial officers.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company