A call to action
By Michael S. Greco
The National Law Journal, 1/02/06
Like countless others, I became a lawyer because the legal profession offers uniquely powerful ways to contribute to the common good. As legal employers in recent years have had to adapt to an ever more competitive legal market, however, lawyers' opportunities to do pro bono work and public service have diminished. Lawyers today grapple with a difficult dilemma that previous generations of lawyers were spared: how to meet the demands of modern law practice and still fulfill their idealism and professional responsibility to give back to their communities.
Law firms, corporate law departments, government offices and other legal employers know that the answer to this question is crucial to the profession's future and the well-being of society, but the right answer is hard to come by and often requires trial and error. To help find an answer without costly experimentation, the new American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession has developed a free, online Pro Bono and Public Service Best Practices Resource Guide, available at www.abanet.org/renaissance.
Serving two purposes
Lawyers now are needing more balance in their work to improve job satisfaction and hone important skills, and the poor in our country are suffering without adequate access to legal services. Pro bono and community public service programs help address both problems.
The National Law Journal this week spotlights law firms that have attained greater equilibrium between the legal profession's public interest history and current business realities. It is thus an opportune moment for other law firms to contemplate how they can better achieve this goal.
Nevertheless, enhancing the opportunities to do pro bono and public service in the legal workplace is not a onesize-fits-all proposition. Factors such as the type of one's law practice, office size, location and other issues make it difficult to design programs that best meet the needs of lawyers and the communities they serve.
That's why the ABA's Best Practices Guide, a clearinghouse of information describing more than 160 successful pro bono and public service programs from all practice areas throughout the United States, is such a powerful tool. Legal employers interested in implementing pro bono or public service initiatives may draw on the ideas and
experiences of others to tailor the most effective program for their organizations.
Those who already have implemented successful projects may submit them online for inclusion in the guide and thereby make a valuable contribution to the profession and people in need. The Best Practices Guide is fully searchable and easy to use.
While establishing pro bono and public service programs in the legal workplace can be good for business, lawyers must never forget that we always have had a special responsibility to society. More than ever, our country needs our services, and this is the real reason that we now must free up lawyers' time to do more.
Meeting legal needs of the poor
I urge lawyers across the country to use the Best Practices Guide as a resource, and when they think about projects that would work best for their firms, also consider that 70% to 80% of the legal needs of the poor in America go unmet every year, a sad fact in a country with such vast resources. The devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina
and Rita-the legal reverberations of which will be felt for years to come-have greatly compounded this problem. Browse the model programs online in the Best Practices Guide, and as you contemplate the amount of time that you can free up for your lawyers to perform work in the public interest, remind yourself that legal principles and
institutions forming the bedrock of our justice system, such as habeas corpus and a judiciary free from political influence, are being challenged now as never before. Lawyers are best equipped to defend the judicial system that protects us all, but they need workplace programs that give them the time and opportunity to do so.
It is time for lawyers to balance our professional interests with the public interest. The needs of society, and the future of our profession, depend on it. Visit the ABA Commission's Web site, implement one or more of the programs in the Best Practices Guide and help other firms by submitting your own. I guarantee that the lawyers in
your firm, our profession and the American people will thank you for doing so. And so will I.
Michael S. Greco is the president of the American Bar Association. He is a partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick
& Lockhart Nicholson Graham.