Law urges free legal help for poor

Wednesday September 05, 2001

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Law firms that work for the state would have to attempt to provide a certain amount of free legal services to the poor under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate. 

The measure would require that when the state pays a firm more than $50,000 for legal services the firm would have to a “good faith effort” to do a minimum amount of pro bono work for the indigent or certain types of organizations. 

Failure to make that effort could result in non-renewal of the state contract. 

Other factors being equal, law firms with a history of doing pro bono work would have an edge in obtaining a state contract, according to a Senate analysis of the bill by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. 

Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said the bill was an attempt to encourage law firms to provide more pro-bono services. 

According to a recent magazine survey, the number of hours of pro-bono work done by lawyers at the nation’s largest law firms has declined since 1992. 

Sen. Ray Haynes, a Riverside Republican and an attorney, complained there was too narrow a limit on the type of pro-bono services that would qualify under the bill, saying the work he used to do for a soccer organization wouldn’t be covered by the measure. 

“You ought to be allowed to pursue pro bono as you see fit, not as the Legislature sees fit, in order to qualify for state contracts,” he said. 

But Kuehl said the bill’s definition of pro bono was “broad enough to include all communities and groups.” 

A 21-12 vote returned the bill to the Assembly for a vote on Senate amendments. 


On the Net: 

Read the bill, AB913, at http://www.senate.ca.gov