MSC discussing pro bono (non)rules again

At its administrative conference this morning, the Michigan Supreme Court is discussing proposed changes to the Michigan Rules of Professional Ethics regarding pro bono work and what’s expected, but not required, from Michigan attorneys.

Two alternatives have been proposed, one of which would establish the “aspirational goal” of 30 hours or three cases per year, or a donation of $300 or $500 to an organization that provides pro bono services. The other, a State Bar proposal, would  be a restatement of the current rule, adding that providing pro bono services is “voluntary and  shall not be enforced through disciplinary process or any other means.”

In other words, it’s not a rule, it’s a mission statement. (“Finally! Somebody said it!”) There’s certainly nothing wrong with the court issuing something restating a preference that attorneys give something back to their communities, particularly to those in need. But a making a rule that doesn’t require anything seems a bit pointless.

At the same time, creating an “aspirational goal” of giving 30 hours, three cases or $300 to an organization that “provides free legal services to the poor or to traditionally underrepresented groups” seems over the top, even if it also specifically states that it won’t be enforced.1

So tell us what you think: Should the MSC be wasting its time passing rules that specifically state that they won’t be enforced? And should the court be dictating exactly how much a lawyer should be donating, both in time and money and what type of organizations should receive these donations?

1 For the textualists out there, this isn’t really a rule:

rule – noun \ˈrül\ – a : a prescribed guide for conduct or action; b : the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members; c : an accepted procedure, custom, or habit; d: (1) : a usually written order or direction made by a court regulating court practice or the action of parties (2) : a legal precept or doctrinee : a regulation or bylaw governing procedure or controlling conduct.

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