The Civil Pro Bono Panel annual report detailing practitioner perspectives and 2022 data from pro bono cases was recently released by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
The Civil Pro Bono Panel is a program of volunteer attorneys willing to represent individuals with limited financial means in civil matters when requested by the federal court. The annual report was presented by the district court’s Standing Committee on Pro Se Litigation.
The report shared stories from both pro bono practitioners and those involved in litigation. Clinton Burke, a lawyer and owner of Flat Creek Law PLLC, shared his “attorney insights” from his time volunteering with the Civil Pro Bono Panel.
In the report, Burke advised future volunteer attorneys with the panel to communicate clearly and consistently with clients about the scope of legal representation, explain the importance of attorney-client privilege, show that everyone in the case should be treated respectfully and provide clients with consistent legal advice on the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Burke also wrote that lawyers should seek funds for anticipated litigation costs in compliance with Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.
The USDC panel, the report shared, also had its first case with pro bono panel attorneys on both sides. Carosella v. One World Translation involved Cynthia Carosella who alleged a series of complicated allegations against the small women-run business One World Translation. The case allowed the pro bono attorneys to fully conduct a four-day federal jury trial and sharpen trial skills, the report states, and all of the panel attorneys found the case to be “a satisfying professional challenge.”
The report also shared a thank you message from Gabriela Wright, a pro se party, who alleged Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims against her employer. Wright, in her message, said when the case became too much to handle, she was able to petition for a pro bono lawyer and received help from a “great attorney.” According to an editor’s note, Wright’s case ended with an agreement to voluntarily dismiss the case.
“I did not have the knowledge or finances to have completed this on my own,” Wright said. “I am very grateful to this fine organization and the judges and attorneys who helped me.”
The report also shared data from pro bono cases from 2022, sharing insights into what type of cases had pro bono counsel and the makeup of the panel.
In 2022, 32 civil cases had pro bono appointment orders from the USDC, with 47% of those cases falling under prison conditions and civil rights. Non-prison civil rights made up 22% of the cases, and employment discrimination made up 10% of the cases. Cases also fell under diversity contracts and insurance, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and intellectual property matters.
Of those 32 cases, 18 of the lawyers represented pro se parties in a full or limited scope representation. Thirteen of those lawyers represented their clients with full representation.
Most of the 2022 cases are still currently open, with 10 of the 23 open cases falling under prison conditions and civil rights. Nine of the cases are closed, six are in a jury trial and only three of the cases have been settled.
Fourteen of the 32 cases from 2022 still lack counsel, split between prison conditions and civil rights at 53% and non-prison civil rights accounting for 20% of the unrepresented cases. The other cases with no appointments fell under diversity contract and insurance, ADA, FLSA and employment discrimination.
On the civil pro bono panel, the vast majority of members — 110 of 148 — are individual members, with only 38 from law firms or legal organizations. The size of the law firms that accepted cases in 2022 varied, with seven big and small law firms accepting cases and six medium and solo practitioner firms accepting cases.
The report also highlighted the upsurge in training seminars hosted by the Faculty of Federal Advocates, a supporting partner of the pro bono panel. There were in-person and webinar CLE programs held on representing pro bono clients in employment law and incarcerated clients. The programs are still available on the FFA “pro bono programs” website.
Included at the end of the report was a full list of attorneys and law firms who accepted pro bono cases in 2022.