Posts Tagged pro bono

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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Mandatory Pro Bono? Be Part of the Conversation!

From the New York Times’ Opinion Pages:

In “Rethinking Pro Bono” (Op-Ed, May 14), Ben Trachtenberg casts Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s new legal public service requirement as bad policy, saying students and graduates can’t afford it, can’t do it and shouldn’t be asked to do it since better ideas abound. Starting in 2013, candidates for admission to the New York State Bar must complete 50 hours of public service.

Contrary to Mr. Trachtenberg’s argument, 50 hours of pro bono work will not mire law students and graduates in poverty. Moreover, volunteers can make a difference while gaining skills, confidence and links to jobs. . . .

The pro bono requirement may have hidden virtues. Over time, schools, firms and the courts may guide more resources toward public service, helping to improve its quality. The first opportunity to do pro bono can also make the second easier, instilling in many a commitment for life.

Alternative approaches may also have merit, but credit the chief judge for acting in urgent times to make this good idea a reality.

Read the rest here and respond to this letter for NYT’s Sunday Dialogue.

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NYT Op-Ed: Mandatory Pro Bono Plan for Budding NY Attorneys is Flawed

From the New York Times:

THE chief judge of New York State, Jonathan Lippman, announced at a Law Day ceremony on May 1 that, starting next year, aspiring lawyers must perform 50 pro bono service hours before joining the state bar. The goal is to provide legal services to needy clients, including those facing eviction, foreclosure and domestic abuse.

Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman’s plan is deeply flawed, as it affects only aspiring lawyers who have not yet gained admission to the bar. . . .

The Lippman plan hurts these budding lawyers most of all. Recent law school graduates face a growing employment crisis: the Law School Transparency Data Clearinghouse lists 67 schools (out of the 185 that were scored) with full-time legal employment rates below 55 percent. At the same time, law school tuition and student debt have skyrocketed. The average 2011 law graduate from Syracuse owes $132,993, not including any debt incurred for undergraduate education. At Pace, the figure is $139,007; at New York Law School, $146,230.

After commencement, things get worse. Law graduates often borrow more money for bar preparation, to pay for both living expenses and prep courses, which can cost more than $3,000. Even graduates with good jobs lined up face tight summer budgets; many work in retail or food service to make ends meet, as do many law students. The irony is that many recent law graduates may well qualify for the free legal services Judge Lippman will bestow on New York’s poor. It is from these struggling New Yorkers that Judge Lippman demands over a week’s unpaid labor. . . .

Read more here.

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Job o’ the Day: Pro Bono Coordinator at Pro Bono Net in NY!

Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit organization using innovative technology to increase legal assistance for poor persons, seeks a highly qualified candidate to spearhead pro bono recruitment campaigns and support and maintain partnerships with nonprofit legal aid organizations in New York and nationally building legal resource web sites to serve pro bono, legal aid and human rights advocates. This full-time position reports to the Deputy Director and is based in New York City.

Pro Bono Net (PBN) works in close partnership with other nonprofit legal organizations across the U.S. and Canada to increase access to justice for poor and moderate-income people. It does so by (i) supporting technology innovation by the nonprofit legal sector, (ii) increasing participation by volunteers, and (iii) facilitating collaborations among advocates working on
similar issues or in the same region. Pro Bono Net’s programs include,, Pro Bono Manager, and LawHelp Interactive. To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s programs, visit

To learn how to apply, check out the full listing at PSLawNet!

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Job o’ the Day: Assistant Director, Public Interest at American University, Washington College of Law!

The Assistant Director, Public Interest (Assistant Director) will be responsible for developing new programs, bringing coherence to WCL’s vision and managing the many on-going public interest/pro bono projects sponsored by WCL. 

This position will be an advocate for public interest law and will be responsible for maintaining an institutionalized, formal Pro Bono Honors Pledge Program that promotes specific work opportunities and offers students guidance in selecting pro bono projects.

The Assistant Director will encourage students to volunteer and become active participants during their law school career. The individual will also have oversight responsibilities for the Public Interest Public Service (PIPS) Scholarship Program and will work with each class of PIPS scholars to focus on various public service commitments while in law school.

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Job o’ the Day: Pro Bono Coordinator at Kids in Need of Defense in NYC!

Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) is an innovative partnership among the Microsoft Corporation, Angelina Jolie and other interested philanthropists, law firms and corporate supporters. KIND is dedicated to providing both pro bono representation and positive systemic changes in law and policy to benefit unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children. Launched in fall 2008, KIND is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

KIND seeks a Pro Bono Coordinator in New York City to help develop, maintain, and oversee the provision of pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied children through KIND’s network of major law firms and corporate partners.  This includes helping children to understand the immigration process and training volunteer attorneys to effectively represent individual child clients before immigration authorities.  The Pro Bono Coordinator’s role does not include direct legal representation.

Learn how to apply at PSLawNet!

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UVA Law Students Set Record for Pro Bono Hours

From the Daily Progress:

Students at the University of Virginia School of Law volunteered a record number of hours of pro bono work over winter recess. More than 200 students donated their time and legal services, logging about 10,000 hours in less than a month.

“We are absolutely thrilled. This was a record number of participants,” said Kimberly Emery, assistant dean for pro bono and public interest. The previous record was set over the 2010-11 winter break when 177 students logged more than 8,000 pro bono hours. . . .

For students, legal volunteer work is a way to put what they have learned in the classroom into practice. . . .

Emery said that pro bono work is especially beneficial for students just beginning law school.

“For the first-years it’s an opportunity for them to try out for two weeks a type of legal practice before they commit to a whole summer of it,” she said.

Reser agreed, adding that her pro bono provided “extra reassurance” that she made the right decision enrolling in law school.

“I’m definitely more looking forward to actually getting out and starting work,” Reser said. She has plans to work with a law firm this summer. . . .

“Everybody in the community benefits when legal issues can be addressed properly through the court system,” she said. “Especially in today’s economic climate, there are many individuals who can’t access the courts without the aid of a pro bono attorney.”
Read more here.

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