On January 17, Minnesota amended its practice rules to permit “house counsel” registered under Rule 10 and “temporary house counsel” registered under Rule 9 to provide pro bono legal services to pro bono clients referred to the lawyer through an approved legal services provider.
Minnesota, like most other states, permits in-house counsel licensed and in good standing in another jurisdiction to work for their employer in Minnesota. Prior to the rule change, Minnesota did not allow those lawyers to also provide pro bono services. In revising its practice rules, the state joins others, like Connecticut and Iowa, that have recently rectified this limitation, thus increasing the number of lawyers able to provide pro bono assistance to those in need. The new Minnesota rules become effective February 1.
When the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners initially submitted the proposed rule amendment to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the proposal allowed only Rule 10 “house counsel” to engage in pro bono services. Adam Hellman, a member of CPBO’s In-House Pro Bono Multijurisdictional Practice Task Force and senior associate general counsel at UnitedHealth Group Incorporated**, which is headquartered in Minnesota, had been advocating for a rule change at that time. Once the Minnesota Supreme Court circulated the proposed rule for comment, Hellman, CPBO, the Association of Corporate Counsel**, and in-house counsel around Minnesota joined forces to add the voice of the in-house bar on this issue. ACC, the Office of General Counsel for 3M Company**, and corporate counsel from Mayo Clinic**, Medtronic, Inc.**, Target Corporation** and UnitedHealth Group Incorporated, submitted comment letters to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The ACC letter was also signed by the president of the ACC Minnesota Chapter and 14 chief legal officers. Those comments contained both support and recommended changes. The court accepted one of those changes – broadening the proposed amendment to include Rule 9 “temporary house counsel.” However, it did not remove restrictions on the types of pro bono clients house counsel may serve nor did it eliminate the requirement that clients be referred through an approved legal services provider.
While the new Minnesota rules are 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. With experience and continued interest and growth in in-house pro bono, The PBEye hopes that states will move to adopt language that would support broad participation in pro bono by in-house counsel.
In the meantime, for more information about this issue, we hope you will attend the session “Ethics: Right to Practice Pro Bono” at the 2013 PBI Annual Conference on March 15 in Washington, D.C. To join the effort to change the rules in other jurisdictions contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.
**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM