On April 1, new rules approved by the Ohio Supreme Court went into effect, permitting non-locally licensed in-house counsel registered to work in state for their employer to also provide pro bono legal services in Ohio. Under the amended Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio (Gov.Bar R. VI, Section 3) and Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct (Prof.Cond.R. 5.5.), registered in-house counsel in Ohio may provide pro bono to “either a person of limited means or a charitable organization” and the legal service is assigned or verified by an approved organization. This is an important step in the right direction, empowering approximately 350 registered in-house counsel to use their legal skills to assist those who cannot afford legal services.
The passing of the amended rules is the result of a near three year effort by the Ohio in-house community, CPBO, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)**, and others to lift restrictions on non-locally licensed in-house counsel’s engagement in pro bono. Leading the charge was Phil Smith, senior counsel, GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric Company**, who, in collaboration with legal services organizations and others, proposed the rule change to the Ohio State Bar, which in turn recommended the amendment to the Ohio Supreme Court.
In support of the proposal, ACC, working with its three chapters in Ohio, submitted letters to the Court, signed by chief legal officers in Ohio, encouraging the Court to adopt the proposed amendment. Smith, working with CPBO and others, also submitted letters and emails in support from more than 125 in-house counsel throughout Ohio.
Ohio joins 10 other jurisdictions that have changed their practice rules in the past three years to allow non-locally licensed in-house counsel who are authorized or registered to work for their employer to also provide pro bono legal services. Together, these rule changes have empowered more than 5,000 in-house counsel to engage in pro bono legal services, growing the pool of volunteer lawyers able to assist in closing the gap in access to justice.
With the amended rules, Ohio has widened the entry for greater pro bono engagement by in-house counsel. The PBEye hopes that other jurisdictions also will move in this direction, and will adopt language that supports broad participation in pro bono by in-house counsel similar to Illinois, New York, and Virginia. For more information about this issue, see CPBO’s webpage dedicated to Multijurisdictional In-House Pro Bono. To learn more about efforts to change the rules in other jurisdictions, please contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.
**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory