This summer, Connecticut became the latest jurisdiction to amend its practice rules to permit authorized in-house counsel to provide pro bono legal services. The judges of the Connecticut Superior Court adopted the revisions on June 15, which become effective January 1, 2013.
Like many states, Connecticut previously had no rule allowing pro bono legal services to be provided by in-house attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions but authorized to work for a legal department in the state. Although there are nearly 900 authorized in-house counsel in Connecticut, this gap in the rules might have remained. However, the current crisis in access to justice has forced many in the legal community to consider untapped resources, including the skills and dedication of authorized in-house counsel.
In October 2011, the Connecticut Access to Justice Commission hosted a Pro Bono Summit where attendees discussed the crisis and the steps Connecticut could take to improve the provision of legal services to underserved communities. Speaking on one of the panels during the summit, Brackett B. Denniston III, senior vice-president and general counsel of General Electric Company** emphasized the importance of pro bono and recommended that the practice rules be changed to enable authorized in-house attorneys to provide pro bono legal services.
Following the summit, the Connecticut Access to Justice Committee presented to the courts a recommendation to amend the practice rules. As a result of the new amendment, authorized in-house attorneys will be able to provide pro bono service offered “under the supervision of an organized legal aid society or state/local bar association project, or of a member of the Connecticut bar who is also working on the pro bono representation.”
While the new Connecticut provision is not as expansive as provisions adopted in other jurisdictions such as Colorado and Virginia, we at The PBEye believe it’s a step in the right direction. As jurisdictions become more familiar with the issues related to in-house pro bono and as in-house pro bono continues to grow, The PBEye hopes that states will move to adopt language that would support broad participation in pro bono by in-house counsel.
**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM