The legal profession has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. In fulfilling this responsibility, a lawyer should aspire to:
N.M. R. Prof'l. Cond. 16-601
Committee commentary. -
Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional work load, should aspire to provide legal services to those unable to pay, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. The New Mexico Supreme Court has adopted RuleNMRA, which sets forth minimum pro bono goals and reporting requirements.
Subparagraphs (1) and (2) of Paragraph A recognize the critical need for legal services that exists among persons of limited means by providing that a substantial majority of the legal services rendered annually to the disadvantaged be furnished without fee or expectation of fee. Such services consist of the full range of legal activities, including individual and class representation, the provision of legal advice, legislative lobbying, administrative rule making and the provision of free training or mentoring to those who represent persons of limited means. The variety of these activities should facilitate participation by government lawyers, even when restrictions exist on their engaging in the outside practice of law.
Eligible persons are those who qualify for participation in programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation and those whose incomes and financial resources are slightly above the guidelines utilized by such programs but who, nevertheless, cannot afford counsel. Legal services can be rendered to individuals or to organizations, such as, homeless shelters, battered women's centers and food pantries that serve those of limited means. The term "governmental organizations" includes, but is not limited to, public protection programs and sections of governmental or public sector agencies.
Because service should be provided without fee or expectation of fee, the intent of the lawyer to render free legal services is essential for the work performed to fall within the meaning of Subparagraphs (1) and (2) of Paragraph A. Accordingly, services rendered cannot be considered pro bono if an anticipated fee is uncollected, but the award of statutory attorneys' fees in a case originally accepted as pro bono would not disqualify such services. Lawyers who do receive fees in such cases are encouraged to contribute an appropriate portion of such fees to organizations or projects that benefit persons of limited means.
The aspirational standard of Rule 16-601 NMRA of the Rules of Professional Conduct can be met in a variety of other ways as set forth in Paragraphs B, C and D of the rule.
Subparagraph (1) of Paragraph B covers instances in which the lawyer agrees to and receives a modest fee for furnishing legal services to persons of limited means. Participation in judicare programs and acceptance of court appointments in which the fee is substantially below a lawyer's usual rate are examples.
Subparagraph (2) of Paragraph B includes the provision of certain types of legal services to those whose incomes and financial resources place them above limited means. It also permits the pro bono lawyer to accept a substantially reduced fee for services. Examples of the types of issues that may be addressed under this subparagraph include First Amendment claims, Title VII claims and environmental protection claims. Additionally, a wide range of organizations may be represented, including social service, medical research, cultural and religious groups.
Paragraph C recognizes the value of lawyers engaging in activities that improve the law, the legal system or the legal profession. Serving on bar association committees, serving on boards of pro bono or legal services programs, taking part in Law Day activities, acting as a continuing legal education instructor, a mediator or an arbitrator and engaging in legislative lobbying to improve the law, the legal system or the profession are a examples of the many activities that fall within this paragraph.
There may be times when it is not feasible for a lawyer to engage in pro bono services. At such times a lawyer may discharge the pro bono responsibility by providing financial support to organizations within the contemplation of Rule 16-601 NMRA of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Such financial support should be reasonably equivalent to the value of the hours of service that would have otherwise been provided. In addition, at times it may be more feasible to satisfy the pro bono responsibility collectively, as by a firm's aggregate pro bono activities.
Because the efforts of individual lawyers are not enough to meet the need for free legal services that exists among persons of limited means, the government and the profession have instituted additional programs to provide those services. Every lawyer should financially support such programs, in addition to either providing direct pro bono services or making financial contributions when pro bono service is not feasible.
Law firms should act reasonably to enable and encourage all lawyers in the firm to provide the pro bono legal services called for by Rule 16-601 NMRA of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The responsibility set forth in Rule 16-601 NMRA of the Rules of Professional Conduct is not intended to be enforced through disciplinary process.
[Adopted by Supreme Court Order No. 08-8300-005, effective March 15, 2008.].
ANNOTATIONS The 2008 amendment, approved by Supreme Court Order 08-8300-05, effective March 15, 2008, changed the title of the rule; in the introductory paragraph, added a new first sentence, deleted "A lawyer should aspire to render at least fifty (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year", and rewrote the last sentence; in Paragraph B(1), substituted "a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means" for the content now in Paragraph B(2); deleted former Paragraph C; added a new Paragraph D; deleted the ABA Comment to Model Rules; and added a new committee commentary. The 1997 amendment, effective January 1, 1997, rewrote the rule. Compiler's notes. - The old ABA Comment was replaced by the 2008 committee commentary.
For provisions pertaining to the civil legal services commission, see 34-14-1 NMSA 1978.