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Pro bono work--good for the client, good for the soul [by Frank C Lee] It’s the best legal representation money can’t buy. In an age and a capitalist society that worships the almighty dollar and the bottom line, pro bono work remains a seemingly anachronistic holdover in the legal profession.
The lofty but curiously altruistic acts by
concerns that the proposal may someday
lawyer decides for himself or herself what he
attorneys take place not just during the holi-
lead to mandatory pro bono work.
or she will do on a pro bono basis,” said Mr. Segall, an attorney with Copeland, Franco,
days but year round. But the fact of the matter is that the demand for attorney services
“In the context of appointments to repre-
far exceeds the supply.
sent indigent criminal defendants, I have, in the past, heard a lawyer or two complain of
Screws & Gill in Montgomery, AL. Maryland’s highest court created a commis-
“Our best estimate is about 25 percent of
involuntary servitude,” said Robert D. Segall,
sion in 1998 to study the amount of pro bono
the poor or those in need of legal services in
president-elect of the Alabama State Bar
work being performed in that state. Instead
this state are able to access them when they
of making pro bono work mandatory, the
need them,” said Sharon E. Goldsmith, an at-
court asked attorneys to “aspire” to perform
torney and executive director of the Pro Bono
According to the American Bar Association,
Resource Center of Maryland.
arguments against mandatory reporting of
50 hours of pro bono service annually.
pro bono work--a requirement that already
“Some of them were reluctant. The only thing
“Frankly, it’s very difficult to get a good
exists in Florida, Maryland, Nevada, and
that’s required right now in Maryland is that
handle on people who are in need, because
Indiana--include arguments that it violates
attorneys report their pro bono hours per
if they are not getting those services, we
the constitutional right to privacy.
year--and they can report ‘zero,’ “ said Janet S. Eveleth, director of communications for
wouldn’t know about them. But for many people, it’s out of their reach,” Ms. Goldsmith
“Some lawyers may not have the time; others
may not practice in the areas in which there is a need for pro bono services. Lawyers who
the Maryland State Bar Association. In 2002, according to the latest figures avail-
The Baltimore-based Pro Bono Resource
fall in these categories should contribute
able, the nearly 20,000 attorneys in Maryland
Center of Maryland is a statewide coordina-
money toward the provision of free legal
donated more than one million hours of their
tor of volunteer legal services. It acts as
services,” Mr. Segall said.
time to provide legal services for those who could not afford it and gave nearly $2.21 mil-
a clearinghouse for attorneys, matching a court practitioner to a person or organization
“The ‘obligation’ to perform pro bono work
in need of his or her expertise.
is instilled into lawyers beginning in law
lion to the less fortunate.
school, through bar associations, through
“Lawyers who have practiced longer tend to
“Contested, domestic cases--divorce, child
courses and talks on professionalism, and
engage in more pro bono service. And those
custody--can go on for years, so lawyers are
who concentrate on family law, general law,
sometimes putting in, literally, sometimes
and employment law tend to provide the
hundreds of hours; so even if you are only
Other arguments listed by the ABA against
charging $50 an hour--if you are putting
mandatory reporting include the fear that the
200 hours in a case--it gets expensive,” Ms.
public and the press would use the informa-
In that study, half of the attorneys in the state
tion to shame lawyers into doing pro bono
at the time offered pro bono services, with 51
work--an argument advocates of the require-
percent of the attorneys who responded of-
ment also seem to share.
fering pro bono services to those with limited
On Dec. 11, the Illinois State Bar Association postponed a vote on requiring its lawyers
means, and 13 percent offering their services
to report annually how much pro bono work
“Our firm feels that it is the obligation of
they do. Members of that association voiced
each lawyer to do pro bono work, but each
most pro bono hours,” Ms. Eveleth said.
to pro bono organizations.
continued on back
“There are some who are reluctant, who feel ‘coerced’ into doing pro bono work. But most attorneys, once they start a pro bono case, really enjoy it. That’s the feedback we’re getting from the attorneys. They really find the work rewarding,” Ms. Eveleth said. Stephen J. Nolan, a Baltimore, MD, attorney, has handled a number of special education cases pro bono, involving low-income families concerned about their children’s educational needs. “It’s been believed for years that lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide free and ‘reduced-fee’ legal services to people who can’t afford it,” said Mr. Nolan, chairman of the board of directors of the American Lung Association of Maryland. “And it really is a ‘two-way street.’ Not only does the public benefit, but the lawyers benefit because there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction from helping someone access the legal system who otherwise couldn’t afford it.” Maryland Legal Services Corp. had conducted a news assessment in 1988 and found that more than a million poor or indigent residents did not have access to legal services; the corporation channels federal funding for legal services to pro bono work providers. “My philosophy has always been that a lawyer who represents a low-income person should deliver the same quality of legal work that they would provide any paying client,” Mr. Nolan said. “A lot of times we’re asked to take on cases where there’s little chance of success, but success is defined in many ways, and if you can make a difference for someone and get them a little bit of relief, that is still a positive outcome.”
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Pro bono work remains a seemingly anachronistic holdover in the legal profession. Pro bono work - good for the client, good for the soul. Ma...