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    Professional liability insrance covers pro bono volunteers.

    George Brown

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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 77, No. 12, December 2004

    Pro Bono; Pro Lawyer

    Many Wisconsin lawyers provide pro bono service, but many who want to help cannot because they lack insurance. The Bar's new professional liability insurance contract helps fill that gap.

    by org gbrown wisbar George C. Brown,
    State Bar executive director

    George BrownThe other day I signed a contract. Not an unusual event. Over the years, I have signed innumerable contracts. But this one is different. This contract helps Wisconsin attorneys expand their commitment to provide pro bono legal services to indigent people. This insurance for our Volunteer Lawyers Program - a project of the Bar's Pro Bono Initiative - provides all lawyers with professional liability insurance when they accept pro bono referrals from the State Bar or volunteer at a State Bar-sponsored pro bono project. This includes retired and semi-retired attorneys, and part-time and stay-at-home lawyers who might not necessarily carry insurance or high-enough limits. The largest groups covered under this policy likely will be government lawyers and in-house corporate counsel who do not have their own insurance policies. An endorsement on the policy even makes the State Bar policy the primary insurance for volunteer attorneys who already have coverage through their own firms.

    Signing this insurance contract fulfilled a long-standing objective of the Pro Bono Initiative developed by the State Bar's Legal Assistance Committee and our pro bono coordinator. Many Wisconsin lawyers provide pro bono service, but many who desire to help cannot because they lack insurance. This new professional liability insurance contract helps fill that gap.

    The State Bar's Pro Bono Initiative coordinates, expands, and publicizes opportunities for lawyers to provide legal services to indigent people without being limited to matters that meet Legal Services Corporation restrictions on income and case types. Three pilot programs currently are under way, one each in the first, fifth, and seventh judicial districts. However, any Wisconsin lawyer taking cases or providing service through a State Bar-sponsored legal clinic is eligible to receive coverage under the State Bar insurance.

    This insurance for volunteer attorneys is similar to the professional liability insurance the State Bar provides to attorneys who pick up the pieces when a lawyer abandons his or her practice. Until about 10 years ago, whenever a sole practitioner abandoned his or her practice, whether through death, illness, or disappearance, local attorneys often took the responsible action of winding up the attorney's practice. However, they did so at their own risk or at the risk of their liability coverage. At the request of the State Bar, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the creation of the Lawyers Assistance Corporation to provide professional liability insurance coverage to attorneys appointed by the circuit court as trustees of an abandoned practice. The State Bar pays the premiums for both insurance programs so that clients' rights can be preserved and lawyers who are engaged in this work can have their well-being preserved.

    For more information about the Pro Bono Initiative or how to use this new insurance benefit, contact attorney Jeffery Brown, the State Bar's pro bono coordinator, at (608) 250-6177 or org jbrown wisbar wisbar jbrown org. For information about the Lawyers Assistance Corporation, contact Shell Goar, the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program coordinator, at (608) 250-6172 or org sgoar wisbar wisbar sgoar org.