Effective January 1, the more than 225 registered in-house counsel in Wisconsin may provide pro bono legal services without unnecessary restriction. Previously, in-house counsel licensed and in good standing in other jurisdictions and registered to work for their employer in Wisconsin were permitted to provide pro bono legal services only “to qualified clients of a legal service program.” See Wis. SCR 10.03(4)(f) (cmt.).
The road to this change began several years ago when the Wisconsin ACC Chapter took up the issue. At the chapter’s urging, on October 7, 2015, the State Bar of Wisconsin filed a petition to amend the Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules. On April 13, 2016 the court held a public hearing on the rule change, where PBI President and CEO Eve Runyon provided information on the topic and answered questions about in-house legal pro bono. Following a period of deliberation, on April 28, 2016, the court voted 5-2 to adopt the petition. On July 21, 2016, the court issued Rule Order 15-05 amending Supreme Court Rule 10.03(4)(f) to include: “A lawyer registered under this subsection may provide pro bono legal services without fee or expectation of fee as provided in SCR 20:6.1,” thereby expanding the pool of clients registered in-house counsel may serve.
Wisconsin joins Illinois, New York, and Virginia as a state that allows non-locally licensed in-house counsel to provide pro bono services free of unnecessary restrictions. The PBEye congratulates all involved in the rule change for their dedication to equal access to justice. We hope that Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, and Virginia are just the start and that it is only a matter of time until non-locally licensed in-house counsel in all states can provide pro bono legal aid to those in need without unnecessary restrictions.
Amending the local practice rules is of course only one step in increasing the role of in-house counsel in improving access to justice. Runyon returned to Wisconsin in November to speak at Quarles & Brady’s*† 2016 Annual Legal Ethics Seminar on the ethics of in-house pro bono, including the practice rules that apply to non-locally licensed in-house counsel. As discussed by all of the esteemed speakers that day, with knowledge of the rules and a bit of organization, legal departments are using their unique skills to assist those in need.
* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project