2022 Pro Bono Reporting is Open for NC Paralegals

Rachel, a white woman with blond hair, wears a peach blouse. Green foliage is in the background.By Rachel Royal

In 2022, the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center (the “PBRC”) launched a statewide voluntary Paralegal Pro Bono Reporting process for the first time. In 2022, 127 paralegals reported performing 1,983 hours of pro bono service throughout the year. Additionally, 13 of those paralegals who reported a combined 1,227 hours were inducted into the inaugural cohort of the North Carolina Paralegal Pro Bono Honor Society! The PBRC has once again opened pro bono reporting for paralegals to report their hours served in 2022. The reporting period closes on March 31, 2023. This process is open to all North Carolina paralegals, regardless of education or certification status.

While there is no requirement for paralegals to offer pro bono services in North Carolina, there is an ethical responsibility for attorneys to do so under North Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, and Guideline 10 of the ABA Model Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegal Services states that “[a] lawyer who employs a paralegal should facilitate the paralegal’s participation in appropriate continuing education and pro bono publico activities.” Rule 6.1 encourages North Carolina attorneys to provide at least 50 hours of legal services per year at no cost to individuals of limited means and/or charitable or other organizations that serve individuals of limited means.

While attorneys can provide these services autonomously, paralegals must do so in most cases under the supervision of attorneys licensed by the North Carolina State Bar. In some cases, a paralegal may provide pro bono services autonomously in administrative law matters where allowed by state law, such as in EEOC or DSS hearings. For more information about the ethical obligations of a paralegal in pro bono service, refer to the Guidelines for Use of Paralegals in Rendering Legal Services as published by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification. Essentially, in most cases, paralegals can provide pro bono service in the same manner as they provide services to clients of their employing firm or attorney.

Paralegals should participate in pro bono activities for many reasons, including increasing access to justice for low-income communities and other vulnerable populations. In June 2021, the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission and Equal Justice Alliance, in partnership with UNC Greensboro’s Center for Housing and Community Studies, published the 2021 Civil Legal Needs Assessment. This study revealed that legal aid providers, which are drastically underfunded, cannot serve 86% of the people who qualify for their services due to limited resources. This means that a majority of low-income North Carolinians are not able to get the legal help they need. The maximum household income for a family of four to qualify for Legal Aid of North Carolina’s services is approximately $33,000 per year. People in this income bracket certainly cannot afford an attorney’s average $250/hour fee. Perhaps even more alarming, because it is less publicized, is a national study by IAALS that reveals a large majority of the middle class cannot afford these fees either. For many, pro bono service is the only legal help they will ever receive.

Paralegals may wonder how they can manage to add pro bono service into their already busy schedules. In reality, 50 hours of service per year would require less than 1 hour of service per week, which can easily be accomplished during a lunch break, in the evening, or even over the weekend. As of May 2021, there were approximately 12,500 paralegals employed in the state of North Carolina, so if each one of them offers at least 50 hours of pro bono service per year, that would lend 625,000 hours of pro bono service toward underserved North Carolinians. When paralegals assist attorneys in pro bono service, it also broadens attorneys’ availability to serve even more individuals who need legal services. Since the pandemic, more legal service providers and nonprofit organizations are innovating their pro bono projects by allowing volunteers to serve remotely, which provides greater access for both volunteers and clients.

Pro bono opportunities for both attorneys and paralegals can be located by visiting the following links:

Self-reporting of the prior year’s pro bono hours for both paralegals and attorneys is voluntary and available from January 1 through March 31. If you did not offer pro bono services in 2022, we would encourage you to seek opportunities in 2023 and to mark your calendar for reporting next year. To assist you in tracking this information throughout the year, feel free to download and use this Tracking Worksheet. To report pro bono hours for 2022, please visit this page.

Rachel Royal, CP, NCCP, owns Royal Touch Legal & Business Solutions, LLC. She has been a contract Project Manager and Paralegal Consultant with the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission and NC Pro Bono Resource Center since January 2021. Rachel graduated in 2017 from Carteret Community College with an AAS in Paralegal Technology as the Paralegal Student of the Year. She has experience in family law, insurance defense litigation, and municipal law. Throughout her legal career, she has volunteered for and managed multiple statewide pro bono projects. Rachel has held multiple leadership positions within the Paralegal Division, including Pro Bono Co-Chair, since 2018. She lives in Wilmington, NC with her husband, two boys, and toy Australian shepherd.

The Paralegal Division Blog is managed by the Division’s Communications Committee. Via the blog, the Communications Committee provides information written by attorneys, paralegals, and other experts designed specifically for paralegals in the areas of substantive law, ethics, technology, paralegal practice advice, and more. If you are interested in signing up to submit a blog post on a future date, you can do so here. When you are ready to submit a blog post, you can do so by using this form.

You may also wish to participate in the Division by using our virtual suggestion box to submit suggestions/ideas to the Division Council, nominating a paralegal for Paralegal Spotlight, or completing the Paralegal Spotlight Questionnaire if you are nominating yourself. If you are interested in volunteering with the Communications Committee, please contact the Communications Committee Chair at [email protected]. If you are interested in joining other division committees, you can review a list of committees and sign up here.