For one week at the end of October, law schools, law firms, bar associations and other legal groups from Seattle to Boston and New York to New Orleans will recognize the work done by lawyers on behalf of the poor and underserved through a national pro bono celebration.
Pro bono refers to legal work that lawyers do for free for the benefit of their communities. This work can include representing individuals near the poverty line in civil cases that involve issues such as landlord-tenant disputes, child custody, veterans’ benefits and foreclosure. It can also include legal work on behalf of an organization that serves the poor, such as a homeless shelter. In some communities, lawyers are deeply involved in the legal tasks of community economic development, providing counsel for start-up microenterprises and non-profit organizations that serve low-income communities.
The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service organizes the National Pro Bono Celebration, which is Oct. 24 - 30. To date, local organizers have planned hundreds of events in nearly every state to highlight the year-round efforts of lawyers who try to meet the ever-growing legal needs of this country's most vulnerable citizens. These efforts are designed to increase pro bono participation and result in greater access to justice for Americans living on the social margins.
America’s lawyers have a long tradition of providing pro bono service. Although any profession can make free service for the poor a part of its standard practice, it is the legal profession that includes pro bono as a core value. The ABA has a goal calling for lawyers to spend 50 hours a year providing pro bono service. We take pride knowing that lawyers are contributing an average of more than 40 hours a year of pro bono service to people of limited means.
Pro bono work brings hope to the powerless and helps right the wrongs of injustice. While lawyers have contributed much, there is still more to be done.
As part of the National Pro Bono Celebration, law schools, state and local bar associations, judicial groups and community development organizations have planned hundreds of free legal service events all around the country.
Orange County lawyers will work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 26 at several legal clinics in Costa Mesa, Irvine, La Habra, San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ana to help low-income residents with bankruptcy, foreclosure, domestic violence, eviction and immigration issues.
The Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law will have an immigration symposium and educational event on deportation defense training.
In New Mexico, the 2nd Judicial District Pro Bono Group, JAG and military specialists, Law Access New Mexico, the state bar and the New Mexico School of Law will host a free legal fair focusing on veterans’ issues.
In New Jersey, the Rutgers School of Law-Camden and the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey is launching a new pro bono project to help federal prisoners re-enter the community.
Idaho is launching a new statewide Ask-A-Lawyer program that will be staffed 100 percent by government pro bono lawyers. The organizers of this program plan to staff it every business day of the year.
In New York, the Nassau County Bar Association has organized a mortgage foreclosure free legal consultation clinic with Nassau County Homeownership Center, Nassau/Suffolk Law Committee, Community Development Corporation of Long Island and the New York State Attorney General Office.
Volunteerism transcends politics. It is a central part of the call for action made by presidents from Kennedy to Reagan to Obama. The legal community asks everyone to join with us in volunteering to help the growing number of our neighbors who have fallen on hard times. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently declared the recession to be over, but recovery will be slow for many. We all must stand ready to help when we can. The American Bar Association encourages all lawyers to add some pro bono work to their portfolio. Volunteer help is a renewable resource, independent of fossil fuels or the stock market, and it becomes stronger and more abundant with use.
If you are a person in need of pro bono assistance please go to: http://www.findlegalhelp.org