Expansion of pro bono always stirs complex emotions, as shown by the recent NY controversy. I for one am convinced that the pro bono system could be made far more efficient and productive by restructuring its relationship to the overall delivery system.
But as reported in Law.com,
A New Jersey State Bar Association task force proposing to raise the roof on pro bono legal efforts is meeting opposition from an unlikely quarter — Legal Services of New Jersey, the state’s largest pro bono provider.
The core disagreement seems to be about the following:
LSNJ objects that expanding the [pro bono] exemptions to other groups “inevitably would dilute the primary focus” on assisting those of limited means and divert help elsewhere. LSNJ also predicts a significant jump in fee waivers that would shrink court revenues and possibly lead to fee hikes for other litigants. It says more information is needed to assess the impact.
The Task Force also wants an Access to Justice Commission, but according to Law.com, LSNJ feels that they do not need one:
LSNJ, on the other hand, says that approach might be right in other states but not here. It cites the view of LSNJ board member Douglas Eakeley, a former board chairman of the national Legal Services Corp., that New Jersey needs no commission because of “the nationally recognized achievements and cohesion of the New Jersey Legal Services system.”
Obviously, I am not fully familiar with the details about New Jersey, but I find it an uphill argument that there is no significant gain from ether expanding the pro bono pool (such as by proving CLE credit for participation), or bringing new players into the access world through a Commission. I would hope that leaders in New Jersey look beyond their borders at the huge benefits that both approaches have brought. That New Jersey is already well funded state in legal aid terms is an argument for rather than against additional collaboration and thus resources. As Access Commissions move from being an innovation to representing the “standard of care” please step back and think more broadly. Other well funded states have Commissions or the equivalent.