Lawyers are apt to get pensive about a number of practice-related questions. Have you billed enough hours to impress the firm and prove that you're still an asset to the firm in a tough economy? Are you likely to get a decent bonus to keep paying down more of your law school debt? Will you actually be able to take a vacation? Have you done any pro bono work?
Did you forget that last question already? Keep in mind, the very purpose of pro bono work is to assist those who desperately need help with something that’s really important, but for which they have no resources themselves. If we don’t help, who will? As President John F. Kennedy said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”
ABA Model Rule 6.1 and You
Although providing free legal services to the poor or charitable organizations may not be a requirement, it's certainly comes recommended in the ABA's Model Rule 6.1. When the economy takes a downturn, lawyers and their paying clients may feel the pinch pretty hard. As lawyers, we have ethical and professional obligations commensurate with the privileges we enjoy in being licensed to practice law. Uncompensated legal services to the
poor and underrepresented are one aspect of our public obligation. Providing pro bono services to the needy not only promotes our personal ethics and professionalism, it raises the stature of lawyers in the community.
Here's where you can do some justice. Does your firm support regularly set aside billable hours for staff to give free legal services or time to helping others in the community who might not otherwise be able to help themselves? Check with the management committee. Ask around at your house of worship, state or local bar association. Ask your colleagues, opposing counsel, friends, neighbors, and courthouse staff.
Finding the Time to Give Back
Look into setting aside a half our each week for a month to read books with children at a local elementary school. Does your community center or your house of worship have a soup kitchen or shelter? Consider volunteering to help folks without a roof over their heads get a hot meal and clean clothes before they head back out on the streets. Check your bookshelves at home and then ask your local public library if they could use your gently used reading material. In the days of ever-tightening budgets, most libraries would probably be glad to help you clean house.
Whatever you decide to do, show some spirit. It's likely to rub off on those around you this time of year. It really shouldn't matter how you decide to do justice--just do it.
Cultivating a pro bono practice, consistent with a lawyer’s abilities and means, combats that public perception and can provide very satisfying work, goodwill, and intangible rewards.