A New Year’s Resolution: More Pro bono!
Happy New Year! If you are like many of us, you may have made a resolution or two for the New Year. Maybe that resolution targets your waistline or your wallet (just like mine does every year), but maybe, just maybe, one of your resolutions this year includes giving back to your community. If that’s the case, I have just the opportunity for you: More Pro bono!
But a question remains – and it is one of the most common questions I receive from new and newish attorneys: “when is the best time to take a pro bono matter?” My answer is always the same: “there is no better time than the present!” Said a bit differently, there simply is no perfect time, but making time creates time. I’ve often remarked, that at no point in an attorneys’ career will she look up from her desk, stare at the clock on the wall, see it says 4:00, and think to herself “hmmm – I have some extra time today, I should have taken that Pro bono matter.” Pro bono does simply does not fit into your “extra time”. If and once you make the decision (or resolution) that you want to engage in Pro bono you need to make it a part of your regular practice. That is, treat our pro bono matters the same way you treat all of our other matters. Once it is on your calendar as a “regular” matter, you will no doubt find that you can fit pro bono into your practice.
Now that we know when you should take a Pro bono matter, you may ask yourself why should I take a pro bono matter. To answer that question, I give e you my top 5 reasons for making Pro bono a regular part of your practice:
- Because you are needed. Pro bono work often benefits those who otherwise cannot afford to secure legal representation. Study after study has shown that poor Americans find it very difficult to secure representation and are all but excluded from our justice system. The need for legal services among the poor is no doubt overwhelming. According to an American Bar Association study, at least 40% of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year. Yet studies show that the collective civil legal aid effort is meeting only about 20% of the legal needs of low-income people. Without pro bono, thousands of individuals would not have any access to the justice system.
- It feels great to give back. Most attorneys find huge satisfaction in helping those in need and those who come from our most vulnerable communities. Often times, taking on a Pro bono matter is an opportunity to truly change the trajectory of someone’s life. Maybe your efforts will keep a family together by rescuing a family member from deportation. Maybe you will help place someone on the path to success by removing a barrier to employment caused by contact with the criminal justice system.
- One of the obligations of a law license. According to Model Rule 6.1 of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association, “a lawyer should aspire to render at least fifty (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Rule 6.1 further urges that lawyers provide a substantial majority of those hours without fee or expectation of fee to persons of limited means or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means. Additionally, lawyers are encouraged to contribute financially to organizations that provide legal services to the poor. Not only do our own rules encourage Pro bono, most attorneys understand that Pro bono is simply the right thing to do.
- Great way to gain experience. A Pro bono matter is a great opportunity for a new attorney to gain advocacy experience on behalf of their pro bono clients that they otherwise would not be exposed to doing during their early years at a firm. A pro bono matter will often provide an opportunity to manage a case from beginning to end, giving the volunteer an opportunity to make those all-important strategy decisions early on in a case. A pro bono matter will almost always include significant client contact. Perhaps most significantly, a pro bono case can offer an opportunity for even brand new lawyers to get into the courtroom and obtain experience appearing before a judge. The professional growth gained from handling a pro bono matter can be invaluable – there is no better way to learn, than to learn by doing.
- A great way to network and gain visibility for you and your firm. Pro bono is often thought of as just being the “right thing to do”. But there is also a strong business case for pro bono. Performing pro bono work often yields substantial practical economic benefits for attorneys, their law firms, and the profession as a whole. Not only is pro bono a great way for attorneys to develop professional skills, which will save and eventually make money for a law firm, a pro bono practice can also build relationships between the firm and the Board members of legal service non-profits. These Board members are often important community members who may refer clients and cases to the firm in the future. It pays to be good!