The attorney’s guide to volunteering
Am I obligated to accept a case for full representation when approached by D10 to do so?
No. Absolutely not. D10 wants to partner with you in your desire to serve your community, making it the best experience possible. D10 would never want a volunteer attorney to feel forced, coerced or otherwise hindered in their desire to serve.
Can I agree to take a case on my own, without a referral from D10?
Yes. Absolutely. You have complete freedom to choose to represent or not represent anyone you want and for whatever reason you do or do not want to help. Also, while not mandatory, it would be helpful to us and our funding purposes if you would allow us to count this case in our statistics by providing us with the client’s name and basic demographic information. You can do this by providing us with this information or by having the client contact us directly.
If you’re volunteering at a walk-in clinic
What is a walk-in clinic anyhow?
Walk-in clinics allow clients to walk in, first-come, first-served, and receive on-the-spot service from a volunteer attorney at a regular site. As the attorney, you are providing unbundled legal services in the form of advice and help with paperwork. By “unbundled legal services,” also called “limited scope representation,” we mean a discrete task that you might ordinarily undertake in the course of full representation, such as giving advice or filling out paperwork for a client.
As a volunteer attorney at these walk-in clinics, you are establishing an attorney-client relationship only for the duration of the visit; “there is no expectation that the lawyer’s representation of the client will continue beyond the limited consultation” (Indiana R.P.C. 6.5). The client will sign a contract indicating his or her informed consent to the limited scope of representation. The client will also note the parties in the matter, so that the attorney can check against known conflicts.
What about conflicts of interest?
The Rules of Professional Conduct contemplate that it’s not feasible for the lawyer to systematically screen for conflicts of interest at these walk-in clinics as is generally required before undertaking representation. According to the Rules, there is a conflict of interest “only if the lawyer knows that the representation presents a conflict of interest for the lawyer… or if the lawyer knows that another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm is disqualified… in the matter.”
Do you have malpractice insurance I can use?
Yes. If you volunteer for Counsel in the Court, you are covered by D10’s malpractice insurance as a primary, or supplementally.
Due to budget cuts, we are no longer sponsoring or providing malpractice insurance for Shalom Center HELP or Shalom Benefits Clinic.
What is Counsel in the Court?
Counsel in the Court (CITC) are D10-managed free walk-in legal clinics where pro se litigants can speak with an attorney, receive legal advice and get help with paperwork. Clinics are available at the following days/times/locations:
2nd and 4th Thursday each month
11:00 AM-1:30 PM
Greene County Courthouse, 1 E. Main St., Bloomfield 47424
Family law only.
1st and 3rd Thursday each month
1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Superior Court 1
Court Annex, 918 16th St., Bedford 47421
Family law only.
1st & 3rd Monday each month
12:00 PM-1:00 PM
Morgan County Courthouse, 10 E. Washington St., Martinsville 46151
Family law and other areas
Family law: 10:00 AM–12:30 PM
Foreclosure, small claims, & other consumer law: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Justice Building, 301 N. College Ave., Bloomington 47404
1st and 3rd Friday each month
11:30 AM–2:30 PM
Owen County Courthouse, 60 S. Main St., Spencer 47460
Family law only.
1st Tuesday of each month
5:00 PM-7:00 PM
Putnam County Courthouse, 1 Courthouse Square, Greencastle 46135
Family law and other areas
Service is Currently Suspended Until Further Notice
Please note that the legal assistance provided is only brief advice and help with forms, and you will not represent clients beyond the brief advice or papers delivered during the advising session.
If you’re working on a case District 10 has placed with you
How does the process work once I’ve agreed to take a case?
- We send the client a letter telling him or her to contact you for an appointment.
We’ll copy you on this letter, and send you a packet which contains their legal and financial qualification data. This packet will also contain a suggested pro bono Client Contract which we hope aids in client control, and a Case Completion Report allowing you to report your hours on the case to us once it’s completed.
- The client will call you within 10 days of the letter.
If the client doesn’t call you within ten days of the date of the letter, and/or they don’t have an acceptable reason for not talking to you promptly, then you’re free to reject the case. Please let Diane or Adrian know if the client has blown you off. If someone is cavalier about your help, we’d rather help the hundreds of people who are thrilled to have free legal services instead of the few who aren’t willing to help themselves.
- Occasionally, if it’s a time-sensitive situation, we’ll call the client and ask them to contact you immediately. Thus their first call to you might come before you receive the informational packet.
Will you get me the Court’s file?
If you like. We don’t provide the file for every client because it may not be required. We do routinely provide them for volunteer Guardians Ad Litem since GALs generally need the whole history of a family.
Do I have to send the Pro Bono Project copies of my appearance or other case documents?
No. Unless you’d like help with forms, research or questions, we’ll let you get on with it and proceed as you see fit. We do appreciate the Case Completion Report at the end of the case because we’re required by the Indiana Pro Bono Commission to report every pro bono attorney’s time on a case.
Is there a source at the Pro Bono Project that will pay for client expenses?
No, unfortunately. Our budget is not quite up to shoestring level this year, but hopefully that will change as the economy and funding rebounds.
The client is told they have to front all expenses to you, including mileage. We believe the client is more invested if they’ve put out some money.
District 10 will gladly do a Motion to Waive Filing Fees for the client, or provide the form/order to you. If a free mediator or guardian ad litem would be useful, District 10 may be able to provide another attorney volunteer to do mediation or GAL work.
Can I file for attorney fees from the other side?
Yes. If it will help you to gain a strategic advantage, go for it. The Client Contract we provide obligates clients to do whatever they can in order to help you collect those fees. However until you actually have the money for fees in hand, we’ll consider it a pro bono case.
If you pursue attorney fees, please don’t name us as the potential done of any fees you collect. If you state in court or to the other side that you are going to donate any attorney fees to us, this gives the appearance that we are taking sides or have a stake in the outcome of the case. If you are successful in collecting attorney fees, if you opt to donate all or part of the fees to us after the fact, we will accept your donation. But we rely on all attorneys in town to volunteer, including (most likely) your opponent, and can’t be caught in the middle while the dispute is ongoing.
Am I allowed to barter with the client in exchange for my services or accept other compensation?
No. Unless you have told us that you intend to charge a “modest means” or reduced fee before we have sent the client over, and the client has agreed to this, the client and D10 are working on the assumption that it will be a strictly pro bono case. However, please feel free to enjoy small tokens of appreciation from both the client and us.
What help can the District 10 Pro Bono Project provide?
We may be able to provide free mediation or guardians ad litem. We have law students available who can help with discovery, research or investigation. We enjoy helping new attorneys or attorneys who are trying something new, because we hope to cultivate quality volunteers; if we don’t know the answer to your question or don’t have a form you need, we’ll find some friendly soul who does. Finally, we also have malpractice insurance, so that if you don’t have coverage, or coverage for a case outside your day job, you’ll be covered under our policy.
How long am I obligated to do this?
You are not obligated to help with future cases or problems collateral to the present case. Each client is told in their informational letter not to ask you for extra help. That doesn’t mean they won’t. Feel free to say “no” politely, and refer them back to us. It may help with client control if you define your obligation in the Client Contract narrowly.
If you’re in a situation where you would advise a paying client to settle because it wouldn’t be cost-effective for them to pay you to proceed, please don’t feel the rules are different because you’re pro bono. You may explain to your pro bono client that the costs of litigation aren’t limited to their own attorney fees, and that attorney ethics impel you to consider the Court’s time and resources as well.
If you feel it will help your client to be more efficient in using your services, you may also charge a small fee, for example $10 per phone call or hour. We call these “modest means” cases, and they’re still countable. However, please let us know before accepting the case before you do this, so we can make sure it’s okay with the client.
We want to cultivate volunteers, not martyrs. If you start feeling fed up, there’s likely a good reason, and it may be time for you to withdraw, if the judge will allow it. Call Diane or Adrian if this situation arises, or indeed, if you feel there are any problems with your representation, the case, or this client.
Call Diane Walker or Adrian Polit at 339-3610 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.