Advisory Opinions

Several states have issued advisory opinions on questions related to judicial pro bono. An advisory opinion is an interpretation of the law as it applies to a set of facts provided in writing by the individual requesting the opinion. The purpose of an advisory opinion is to provide guidance to an official or employee before the official or employee engages in an action that may be prohibited.

The examples of advisory opinions listed below focus on what are permissible judicial pro bono "activities" under the particular state's Model Code of Judicial Conduct. 

Judicial Clerks and Pro Bono

Nebraska

According to Nebraska Judicial Ethics Opinion 08-2, the Nebraska Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit judicial staff attorneys from taking a case from the Nebraska Volunteer Lawyer Project or providing legal representation for individual clients outside their regular employment by a court. For more information, the full text of Nebraska Judicial Ethics Opinion 08-2 can be found here.

Nevada

Nevada Standing Committee on Judicial Ethics determined in opinion JE17-001 that a proposed revision to the Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct which would allow law clerks in counties with a population of more than on hundred thousand to perform pro bono work would violate the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct. For more information, the full text can be found here

Texas

According to Texas Ethics Opinion 283, an attorney employed at a state intermediate appellate court may not perform pro bono work on a federal appeal, even when the issue appealed involves only a federal issue and no state, Texas or otherwise, has concurrent jurisdiction. The Texas Ethics Commission wrote that "Canon 3B (6), (8), (10) and 3C (2) require that appellant staff court attorneys are subject to the same ethical standards as the judge for whom they work." Therefore, because Canon 4G prohibits a judge from practicing law, staff attorneys should also be prohibited. For more information, the full text of Texas Ethics Opinion 283 can be found here.

Judicial Fundraising

Alaska

According to Alaska Advisory Opinion 2004-01 (adopted February 2,2004), "[a judge may make monetary contributions to further pro bono activities." These contributions should be "reasonably equivalent to the value of the hours of service that would have otherwise been provided," however, "a judge may not personally participate in any solicitation of funds or be a guest or speaker at a fund raising event." 'The sole exception to this limitation is that a judge may solicit funds from other judges, if the judge holds no supervisory or appellate authority over the judge solicited." For the full text of Alaska Advisory Opinion 2004-01, please click here.

Florida

According to Florida Advisory Opinion 10-31, a "judge can send a letter to “Members of the Bar” as part of The Florida Bar's “One Campaign.”  This campaign and proposed letter of support would encourage attorneys to join or participate in the Bar’s “One Campaign” by donating pro bono legal services. The proposed letter also refers to a potential monetary donation to a legal aid organization as an alternative to service.” For the full text of Florida Advisory Opinion 10-31, please click here.

Nebraska 

According to Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion 02-3, a judge may not sign a "recruiting letter" for the state bar association asking attorneys to perform pro bono legal services for low income clients or to donate money in lieu of service. Furthermore, a judge may not provide a statement of support for a non-profit legal services organization for use in a fundraising pamphlet. For the full text of Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion 02-3, please click here.

Nevada JE99-001

According to Amended Opinion JE99-001 of the Nevada Standing Commission on Judicial Ethics and Election Practices, a judge, while serving as an officer of a judicial district pro bono foundation, may not sign a letter addressed to attorneys soliciting contributions to the foundation as a means of fulfilling their voluntary goal of providing pro bono legal services. For the full text of Nevada Standing Commission on Judicial Ethics Amended Opinion JE99-001, please click here.

Nevada JE00-004

According to Nevada Standing Commission on Judicial Ethics and Election Practices Opinion JE00-004, judges may, to a limited extent, become involved in fundraising events to raise funds for legal service organizations providing pro bono services. However, "no attorney should feel any direct pressure exerted by a judicial officer while the decision whether to support pro bono is being made." For the full text of Nevada Standing Commission on Judicial Ethics Amended Opinion JE00-004, please click here.

New York 

Under New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 97-14, a judge may be a member of a county bar association committee that makes recommendations to the association about grants to be made from a fund established by a private foundation to enhance pro bono legal services in the county. For the full text of New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 97-14, please click here.

Judicial Participation in Pro Bono Legal Services

Florida 

According to Florida Advisory Opinion 00-25, a judge may not serve on the board of directors of a legal aid society that directly engages in litigation, or one that represents impoverished people through the use of staff counsel. A judge may, however, serve on the board of a legal aid society that acts only as an administrative body to assign cases to lawyers on a pro bono basis and does not make "policy decisions of political significance." For the full text of Florida Advisory Opinion 00-25, please click here.

Michigan

According to Michigan Advisory Opinion J-7 (2008), "a sitting Judge may engage in activities designed to promote and encourage attorneys to provide pro bono legal services." To this end, however, "[a] sitting judge should not directly solicit individual attorneys to provide pro bono services to specific persons." For the full text of Michigan Advisory Opinion J-7, please click here.

New York 

According to the New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 2015-68, "a judicial hearing officer may not participate in a bar association's pro bono help desk at a court from which he accepts judicial hearing assignments." For the full text of the New York Advisory Opinion 2015-68, click here

Judicial Solicitation of Pro Bono Legal Services

American Bar Association

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released Formal Opinion 470 on Judicial Encouragement of Pro Bono Service. According to Opinion 470, a state supreme court judge can sign a letter mailed by the unified bar association encouraging all lawyers licensed in the state to meet their professional responsibility under Rule 6.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct 

Alabama

According to Alabama Advisory Opinion 04-847, a judge may write a letter to members of a local bar association encouraging them to participate in the state bar volunteer lawyers program. For the full text of Alabama Advisory Opinion 04-847, please click here.

Arizona

According to Arizona Advisory Opinion 00-6, a judge may not solicit attorneys to donate time for pro bono legal services by participating in a telephone bank organized by a non-profit organization. For the full text of Arizona Advisory Opinion 00-6, please click here.

Florida 2010-31

According to Florida Advisory Opinion 2010-31, "the Chief Judge of a circuit court can send a letter to "Members of the Bar," soliciting lawyers' participation in the "One Campaign" of the Florida Bar...The One Campaign and proposed letter of support would encourage attorneys to...donat[e] pro bono legal services. The letter also refers to a potential monetary donation...as an alternative to service." To see the full text of opinion 2010-31, click here

Florida 2012-26

According to Florida Advisory Opinion 2012-26, "a judge may solicit attorneys to volunteer as pro bon attorneys ad litem for children in dependency cases at a local bar associations' regular lunch meetings or request local bar associations to convene a special meeting for that purpose." To see the full text of Opinion 2012-26, click here

Kentucky

Per Kentucky Judicial Ethics Opinion JE-1 07, a judge may write a letter urging members of the bar to donate time to pro bono work provided that the letter does not reference a particular pro bono organization. For the full text of Kentucky Advisory Opinion JE-107, please click here.    

Maryland Opinion 124

According to Maryland Advisory Opinion 124, the judges of a circuit court may, as a group, ask individual attorneys to agree to handle one pro bono case per year. In this regard, a judge may also personally ask an attorney to volunteer for such pro bono activity. Furthermore, the judges of a circuit court may place an ad in the local bar newspaper or appear at a group meeting of the bar to solicit volunteers for this service. For the full text of Maryland Advisory Opinion 124, please click here.

Maryland 2013-29

The Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee affirmed Advisory Opinion 124 in Advisory Opinion 2013-29, finding that, "judges may solicit attorneys to represent indigent parties pro bono by writing attorneys individually, by speaking publicly at bar gatherings, or by placing advertisements in bar publications." To see the full text of Opinion 2013-29, click here

Nebraska

According to Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion 02-3, a judge may not sign a "recruiting letter" for the state bar association asking attorneys to perform pro bono legal services for low income clients or to donate money in lieu of service. Furthermore, a judge may not provide a statement of support for a non-profit legal services organization for use in a fundraising pamphlet. For the full text of Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion 02-3, please click here.

New York 90-73

According to New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 90-73, "[n]othing in the rules prohibits judges from soliciting pro bono representation." The opinion makes clear, however, that the judge "should avoid the appearance of coercion." Accordingly, if a judge uses a form which asks attorneys to volunteer to represent poor persons on a pro bono basis, "the attorneys should not have to indicate whether they would accept or decline pro bono appointment; rather the forms should be filled out only by those attorneys who agree to accept pro bono assignments." Furthermore, should the attorney accept, the form should be returned to the clerk rather than the judge. For the full text of New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 90-73, please click here.

New York 93-60

According to New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 93-60, a city court judge may not ask members of the local criminal bar if they would accept as a private client someone who could not pay the attorney's regular fee. For the full text of New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinion 93-60, please click here.

New York 09-68

According to New York Advisory Opinion 2009-68, "a judge who serves on a court pro bono committee may sign formal or handwritten letters of appreciation on behalf of the committee, using court or committee letterhead, to attorneys who serve as volunteer pro bono advocates before other judges." To see the full text of Opinion 09-68, click here

Texas

According to Texas Advisory Opinion 258, "a board of judges may send out a letter signed by all of the judges to all members of the local bar association asking them to consider donating time and services to a volunteer lawyer project's pro bono legal clinic." To see the full text of Opinion 258, click here

West Virginia

According to West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission opinion dated December 28, 1999, a judge may not write a letter on behalf of the pro bono domestic violence project to local attorneys asking them to participate in the program. For further information, please see the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission.

 

Updated April 2020