Dist. of Columbia
District of Columbia lawyers serving the public good.

National Aeronautics and

Space Administration

 

Headquarters

Washington, DC  20546-0001

 

Reply to the Attn of:  GC Memo 97-01                                                             
Jan 9 1997

 

TO:                 Distribution

FROM:           G/General Counsel

SUBJECT:    Policy on Pro Bono Legal Service by NASA Attorneys

Executive Order 12988, issued by the President on February 5, 1996, provides that ?all Federal agencies should develop appropriate programs to encourage and facilitate pro bono legal and other volunteer service by government employees to be performed on their own time, including attorneys, as permitted by statute, regulation, or other role or guideline.?  In response to this provision, this memo sets forth NASA policy on pro bono work by NASA attorneys.

A paradox of practicing as a Federal attorney is that while each of our jobs is dedicated to serving the public through the governmental functions we perform, we are constrained in many ways from engaging in pro bono legal services.  As a practical matter, conflicts of interest and the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 205 often prevent us from practicing pro bono work in our areas of specialty.  Also, unlike many private sector legal employers, the Government cannot provide malpractice insurance, and there are significant limits on the use of official time and Government property for pro bono activities.

Despite these restrictions, I fully support the voluntary efforts of any NASA attorney who seeks to engage in pro bono practice.  Enclosed is an outline prepared by the Department of Justice summarizing the Department?s experience in setting up a pro bono program.  This is a useful summary which should be used as guidance when issues in this area arise.  Approval of pro bono practice should be handled in accordance with NASA?s regulations at 5 CFR § 6901.103 for obtaining approval of outside employment.

Once pro bono representation is approved, it is inevitable that some legal services will need to be provided during the normal work week and that some use of Government equipment and materials will be implicated.  As noted in section IX of the Justice outline, de minimus use of both time and materials is permitted under the Justice program and is a policy issue to be addressed by each agency.  After discussion with the Inspector General, I have decided that it shall be NASA policy to permit, once pro bono legal services have been approved, an attorney?s supervisor to authorize reasonably necessary use of official time (for telephone conferences, filing of papers and the like) and of Government property (computers, copiers, fax machines and etc.) as described in section IX of the Justice outline.

Participation in pro bono legal services is an important way we can help meet unmet needs in our communities.  Although the barriers for us to contribute directly to these problems as lawyers are significant, I do not wish to discourage any NASA attorney from trying to overcome them.  Of course there are kinds of community assistance other than the practice of law, and I wholeheartedly encourage this kind of participation as well.  In any event, the decision to participate in pro bono or other community services is a decision personal to each attorney.  Whatever decision is made must remain personal and must not become a factor in any official action taken or decision made concerning the individual attorney involved.  In short, an attorney?s decision to engage in pro bono activities should be driven by a desire to do good, not a desire to advance or promote his/her Government career.  Each one of us, in our own separate way, needs to relate to his/her community in the way he/she feels best.  Managers need to avoid erecting unnecessary barriers to efforts to help these who are less fortunate than we, but also must avoid putting any official stamp of approval on any one type of activity to the detriment of others.

Should you have any questions concerning the policy outlined above, please feel free to contact me on (202) 358-2450 or Adam Greenstone on (202) 358-2084.

 

Edward A. Frankle

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