Blog Network

About The Bloggers


Lawyers and Pro Bono

Back when I was in law school, I always envisioned pro bono work as representing a client who couldn't afford a lawyer. Like the penniless elderly woman living in an uninhabitable apartment building facing eviction by an evil slumlord. The minimum-wage mom with three kids trying to get a divorce from an abusive spouse. A defendant accused of a capital crime who might be able to show he was wrongly accused if he could afford a lawyer and a decent team of experts rather than the lawyer assigned by the court to take the case for a capped fee of $3,000. Or the homeless men I used to represent here in D.C. when I started my legal career, who were trying to recover unemployment benefits or clean up their credit that was tarnished when they signed up for loans from a sham vocational program. 

So much for my innocent visions of pro bono; apparently, it's gone and grown up while I wasn't looking. As Linda Singer writes in this article,  Why Lawyers Should Take on Pro Bono, pro bono projects now encompass providing free work for banks to help them deal with Patriot Act concerns or evaluating the success of the No Child Left Behind Act or the effectiveness of state and local government efforts to help Hurricane Katrina victims back to self-sufficiency.

I know that all of these efforts help the public. Yet, should this all count as pro bono? Do lawyers really need incentive to work on projects where they interact with banks and government officials and, in the process, build their contacts and resumes? And while these programs are undoubtedly important, pro bono efforts devoted on these matters diverts attention from representing individuals whose matters don't make headlines, but who really do not have any other options.

What's your opinion? Should we encourage large firms to participate in large, "impact case" matters pro bono? And if we do, how do we address the problem of the individuals who need pro bono help?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 11, 2006 at 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


About ALM  |  About  |  Customer Support  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms & Conditions