Posts Tagged Pro Bono Institute

Should We Narrow the Definition of Lawyer Pro Bono? Will That Lead to More Poor People Being Served?

By: Steve Grumm

Environmental stewardship is important.  It’s also great to provide legal work that supports the arts.  Who doesn’t want to support the arts?  But by including such activities in how we – the legal community – define pro bono, are we lessening the odds that pro bono lawyers will take on poverty law cases and provide direct legal assistance to poor people?  A recent Pro Bono Institute report shows that law-firm pro bono on poverty-law matters is down. 

The Institute’s Esther Lardent weighs in on the question, and decides that narrowing “pro bono’s” definition will not lead to more/better work on behalf of low-income clients.  Writing in the National Law Journal, Lardent argues:

Whatever the reason for the downturn, would a definition of pro bono limited to legal services for the poor solve the problem and result in more low-income clients served? I believe it would not. Lawyers make a pro bono commitment for many reasons, but one major impetus for many is a personal commitment to a particular legal problem or client demographic. Lawyers who are passionate about international human rights and the rule of law, protecting civil liberties or ensuring a sustainable environment for future generations understandably want to use their skills to pursue their passion. Business lawyers who are averse to litigation are unlikely to take on adversarial matters on a pro bono basis when they would not do so for paying clients. The reality is that choosing pro bono work is often a matter of blending personal interest with client need. Restricting personal choices will not increase poverty law pro bono. It is, rather, far more likely to reduce the total amount of pro bono and the percentage of lawyers who undertake it.

Our goal should be to educate lawyers about the unparalleled need for legal services to the poor. We should put, as our Pro Bono Challenge and American Bar Association Model Rule 6.1 do, a special emphasis on poverty law pro bono (which led to 58 percent of total Challenge law firm hours devoted to pro bono focused on poverty), and review and revamp the processes for referring, accepting and handling pro bono matters for the poor to make them more appealing and more efficiently undertaken.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – September 16, 2011

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  This week’s Bulletin comes to you from a small beach cabin on Cape Cod, where the Internets are spotty but the ocean is gleaming beautifully in the morning sun.  Seemingly overnight, summer has given way to a brisk, lovely autumn morning.  Please pardon typos as I’m laboring with an intermittent Web connection and will call it a victory just to get this blog post published.  

This week: law students aiding a New York federal court in handling an influx of mediation cases; also in the Empire State, chief judge Jonathan Lippman is again on the warpath for more legal services funding; what a Legal Services Corporation funding cut would mean in Maryland, and why taxpayer $ should support legal services; big LSC news – Senate appropriators are contemplating a 2% dip in FY12 LSC funding; to narrow the justice gap, pro bono guru Esther Lardent calls for mandatory law school pro bono (among other measures); the Census Bureau’s release of alarming poverty data, and what it means for the legal services community; the state of legal services funding in the Glorious Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; a big medical-legal partnership conference is about to get underway in the Bay Area. 

  • 9.16.11 – there has been much coverage lately in legal and national media about resource shortages confronting court systems throughout the U.S. The Southern District of New York is bringing on law students to help handle its caseload.  From the New York Law Journal: “The Southern District has enlisted three area law schools in a new program that will give participating students a practical exercise in client advocacy and managing expectations and help the court cope with an expected upsurge in mediations. Under the supervision of their professors, approximately 30 students at New York Law School, Seton Hall Law School and Brooklyn Law School will represent about 20 employment discrimination plaintiffs in court-referred mediations. They will meet with clients to ascertain their goals, prepare mediation statements and conduct negotiations before volunteer mediators. If a resolution is reached, the students will also help draft the settlement agreement. However, students will not represent plaintiffs in litigation if the mediation is unsuccessful.”
  • 9.15.11 – more New York.  The state’s top jurist is once again leading the charge for state legal services funding.  More New York Law Journal: “With grim economic realities persisting in New York, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will renew his efforts beginning next week to drive home to the governor and the Legislature the need for greater state funding for civil legal services for the poor. The chief judge will preside over the first of four planned hearings Tuesday in White Plains along with Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, New York State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III of Connors & Villardo in Buffalo and A. Gail Prudenti, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. Presiding justices of the other three departments will appear at later hearings in Manhattan, Albany and Buffalo.”
  • 9.14.11 – in a Baltimore Sun op-ed, Legal Services Corporation board chair John Levi explains what’s at stake if LSC funding sees a significant cut in FY12, lays out the growing need for legal services among Terrapin Staters and Americans generally, and makes the case for supporting federal funding of legal services: “Across the country, civil legal assistance supports the orderly functioning of the civil justice system and access to administrative agencies throughout government. Large numbers of unrepresented parties in courts slow dockets and reduce efficiency in the administration of justice for everyone who needs to use the court system. Individuals unable to obtain advice may later be faced with far greater consequences than if they had been able to have their matters sorted out at an early stage.”
  • 9.14.11 – the National Legal Aid & Defender Association is keeping us looped in about LSC appropriation  news on the Senate side.  Recall that a House FY12 proposal would slash LSC funding by over 25% (from just over $400m to $300).  Things are looking a little better in the Senate.  From NLADA: “The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations subcommittee marked up its FY 2012 funding bill today. The bill includes $396 million for LSC, which is a 2 percent decrease from the FY 2011 level of $404 million. Full committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow, September 15. The House full committee recommended a FY 2012 level of $300 million. No appropriations bills have been cleared and appropriators are preparing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running after the end of the fiscal year (September 30).”  Here’s an LSC press release about the subcommittee’s markup.  (Unfortunately, being out of DC and with limited Internets I’m not sure what’s happening with the full Approps. Committee.  I’ll tweet word as soon as I have it.) 
  • 9.13.11 – the Pro Bono Institute’s Esther Lardent pens an opinion piece asking, “Is It Time for Mandatory Pro Bono?” in light of the ever-widening justice gap.  Her answer: not yet.  “For both philosophical and highly pragmatic reasons, I believe that mandatory pro bono should be the last possible resort.”  But Lardent does offer some options for increasing pro bono service, one of which is mandatory pro bono in law school.  “Including a substantial pro bono contribution to the American Bar Association law school accreditation standards — e.g., 150 hours during the course of law school as a condition of graduation — would create additional pro bono resources while promoting an appetite for pro bono and teaching tomorrow’s lawyers how to integrate pro bono into a busy schedule.”  Interesting stuff. 
  • 9.13.11 – as has been well documented in the media, the U.S. Census Bureau released 2010 poverty data.  The data are – I won the Latin Scholar award in high school so you’re darned right I only use “data” in the plural – less than encouraging.  (Some findings below.)  John Levi, the aforementioned Legal Services Corporation board chair, issued a statement reacting to the data: “The U.S. Census Bureau released its official 2010 statistics on poverty this morning, and the data show that nearly one in five Americans qualifies for civil legal assistance at the legal aid offices funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  The number of Americans now eligible for legal services is staggering: more than 60.4 million, up 3.6 million from the prior year.  These 60 million Americans had incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line—$13,613 for an individual and $27,938 for a family of four.”  Here’s some data from the Census Bureau’s report:
    • “The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest since 1993….  Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points.
    • 15.1% of the population in 2010 was living in poverty.  That’s almost one in six people.
    • “In 2010, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.7 percent and 9.2 million, respectively, up from 11.1 percent and 8.8 million in 2009.”
    • Over 1 in 5 children lives in poverty.
  • 9.9.11 – just a few hours from this blog post’s publication, a bigtime medical-legal partnership conference is taking place in one of our nation’s most beautiful locales.  From a press release: “The Bay Area’s most progressive healthcare and legal professionals, students and educators will gather at UC Hastings on Friday, Sept. 16 (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) to mark the first Medical-Legal Partnership conference on the West Coast. Their goal: to transform medicine and law practices to improve community health.  The all-day summit is part of the Medical-Legal partnership movement, a healthcare and legal services delivery model that improves health and well-being of vulnerable populations by integrating health and legal systems. The event has been planned by the Medical-Legal Bay Area Regional Coalition (M-BARC), a partnership that includes 10 Medical-Legal Partnerships with 18 medical sites.”


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Is Mandatory Pro Bono in the Queue as a Solution to our Access-to-Justice Crisis?

By Kristen Pavón

When it comes to taking on our nation’s growing access-to-justice crisis, the Pro Bono Institute’s President and Chief Executive Officer Esther Lardent is not willing to wait around for a solution to conveniently present itself, especially because she has sensed apathy outside the legal profession.

In a recent National Law Journal article, she proposed seven bold steps that can alleviate the gap between the need for legal assistance and the availability of free legal services for the poor (teaser: one is mandatory pro bono hours for law students, gasp!).

Lardent contends that the situation is now dire because of the “Great Recession” and budget cuts for legal services organizations and courts across the country. For Lardent, the last resort should be mandating pro bono service for attorneys. However, she has other interesting options. Here’s a quick rundown of her proposals:

1. Voluntary-plus pro bono. Assume all attorneys are willing to take on pro bono cases. Allow uninterested attorneys to opt out of the program, instead of recruiting individual attorneys.

2. Law student pro bono. In contrast to her prescription for attorneys, Lardent suggests law students be required to complete 150 hours of pro bono hours to graduate. She emphasized the value in awakening an appetite for pro bono work and engaging in a hands-on legal experience for students.

3. Pro bono as a criterion for leadership. Attorneys should have a consistent portfolio of pro bono work before becoming eligible for any leadership position.

4. Revise ABA Model Rule 6.1 (the volunteer pro bono publico provision). Rule 6.1 is too broad for Lardent. The definition of pro bono should be narrowed, and should only mean free legal work for low-income or disadvantaged clients (fun fact: Lardent co-authored Rule 6.1 in the 1990s).

5. Bar association contributions. These associations should actively support local legal services programs, financially and on the legislative front.

6. Make pro bono reporting meaningful. Put procedures in place so that accuracy, consistency, disaggregation and transparency are reflected in annual reporting.

7. Triage and simplification. Come up with an effective triage system that would include effectively diagnosing a client’s legal issues and treating them with the “best and least costly legal intervention.” This could include brief advice, education, unbundled assistance or full-fledged zealous representation.

Check out the article in its entirety here. To learn more about Esther Lardent, read her bio here.

What do you think? Do these seem like viable solutions to access-to-justice issues?

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