Bar News - February 23, 2007
NH Bar Receives National Legal Access Award
By: Dan Wise
The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services presented the New Hampshire Bar Association and the Pro Bono Referral Program with the 2007 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access earlier this month.
The award recognizes the leadership of the Bar in promoting the concept of limited legal services, by which a client can make an agreement with an attorney to receive counsel or representation in part of a matter at a lower cost than for full representation. The Bar Association consulted with the ABA and other legal services organizations in New Hampshire and elsewhere in the nation and collaborated with the state courts to develop new rules affecting every level of the trial courts.
The rules regarding limited-scope representation clarify circumstances under which courts will allow attorneys to provide limited representation with the consent of clients and with the ability for the attorney to file a withdrawal from the case at a specified point. The rules also specify that attorneys may draft pleadings for clients without entering an appearance in the case.
“The New Hampshire Bar Association and the Pro Bono Referral Program seized the opportunity to craft rule changes enabling unbundled legal practices after the NH Supreme Court proposed that changes be made,” according to a description of the award from the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. “Through collaboration of the Bar’s Ethics Committee and Pro Bono Program and with guidance from the ABA’s White Paper on Enabling Lawyers to Assist Pro Se Litigants, the issues were addressed comprehensively.”
The package of rule changes is considered a national model in this emerging area of making legal costs more affordable to the average consumer. The ABA Committee wrote: “The centerpiece of the rules changes focused on unbundled practice in litigation, confronting the notion that lawyers will not get into a case on an unbundled basis if they cannot get out of it without providing all litigation support. The Pro Bono committee developed a proposal to allow withdrawal from litigation without leave of court at the conclusion of a limited appearance, thus encouraging more lawyers to offer limited scope of representation, particularly to those of moderate and low incomes. The [Pro Bono program] assisted the Court in the creation of a limited appearance/withdrawal form.
The award was presented to attorney John Norton, chair of the Pro Bono Governing Board, and NHBA Associate Executive Director for Legal Services Virginia Martin at the National Conference of Bar Presidents luncheon, part of the ABA Midyear Meeting, in Miami on Feb. 9.
Norton, who chairs the Pro Bono Governing Board and also is a member of the Ethics Committee, worked with Martin to develop the package of rules changes, and also conducted two seminars for lawyers (both available online to attorneys at the Bar’s Web site). One session dealt with the rules themselves, and the second concerned the option for attorneys to provide limited representation for clients in mediation on family law matters. The Bar Association is now in the process of developing a series of Web pages to explain and promote awareness of the concept of limited (also known as “unbundled”) legal services in New Hampshire to attorneys and clients.
Attorney Norton is a solo practitioner in Keene who has served on the board of directors of the Pro Bono Referral Program since 1994, and has served as chair since the end of 2001. Last year, Norton received the L. Jonathan Ross Award for Outstanding Commitment to Legal Services for the Poor, in part due to his efforts in researching and writing the unbundling rules.
The Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access honors innovative programs and projects dedicated to matching the unmet legal needs of moderate-income citizens with lawyers who provide affordable legal information, services and representation. It was established by the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services in 1994.