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The YLD Column: No Excuse For Not Listening To The Wisdom Of Dr. Seuss,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) once wrote:  “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” This sentence could be used to describe the world that we live in today. Simply look around and you will see the “funny things.”

For example, within the state of North Carolina, we now have the 7th highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation (11.2% based on December 2009 Bureau of Labor statistics), the 15th highest percentage of people living in poverty of any state in the nation (14.6% based on 2008 Census Bureau data) and the 16th lowest per capita income of any state in the nation ($35,344 based on 2008 Department of Commerce data).

Given these statistics, it should be apparent that there is a great need for lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to those North Carolina citizens who can’t afford to pay for their services.

As we all know, the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct provide that “every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay” and “should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.”

However, it is the rare private practice lawyer within our state who actually meets this standard.  For example, according to the American Lawyer’s 2009 pro bono rankings, the lawyers working at the largest North Carolina-based law firms provide approximately 20 hours of pro bono service per year.

Moreover, these same law firms are actually ranked significantly lower with respect to the amount of pro bono service that they perform than would be expected based upon their national size rankings (26 spots lower on average).

In other words, North Carolina’s largest law firms perform less pro bono service than similarly sized firms in other states.

While there are numerous consequences to having North Carolina’s private practice lawyers fall behind in terms of their pro bono service, perhaps the biggest consequence is that no one else can step into the void to meet the legal needs of North Carolina’s citizens. Legal aid groups are already stretched too thin and government and in-house attorneys have restrictions on the type of work that they may perform.

Within the YLD, we do our best to develop and implement pro bono service projects designed to assist North Carolina citizens.  For example, the YLD’s “Wills for Heroes” program was implemented in order to assist first responders (police officers, firefighters, EMTs, etc.) in obtaining pro bono will drafting assistance.

To date, more than 2,100 first responders have now received assistance through the program.

Similarly, the YLD’s “Project Grace” was implemented in order to assist senior citizens in receiving bono pro health care power of attorney assistance.

To date, more than 300 senior citizens have now received assistance through the program.

However, the YLD has limited resources and simply can’t serve the vast pro bono needs of North Carolina’s citizens. Hence, I will quote Dr. Seuss in sending a message to all North Carolina private practice lawyers: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Once you begin to care about performing pro bono service, you will discover that identifying pro bono opportunities is relatively easy. Moreover, whether you are interested in assisting children, the elderly, veterans, disaster victims or your neighbor, programs have likely already been created to provide you with the opportunity to assist.

However, if a program does not exist to address the need that you have identified, create the program. This is not as difficult as it may sound. Personally, I have been involved in the creation of several pro bono service projects. While there were certainly bumps in the road in the creation of these projects, I was able to persevere and bring these projects to life. You can do the same.

Regardless of whether you are interested in working with an already established program or creating your own program, don’t worry about the naysayers who say that performing pro bono service results in lost revenue. In fact, numerous studies have indicated that performing pro bono service will actually result in business generation opportunities and increased revenue.

Moreover, performing pro bono service will provide opportunities for both junior and senior lawyers to sharpen their legal skills, bolster their resumes, network and otherwise nourish their souls.

As Dr. Seuss says, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind…Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So... get on your way… And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

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If you are interested in learning more about the North Carolina Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, please contact Craig D. Cannon via e-mail (ccannon@bbandt.com) or telephone (336-733-2545).

 

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Also see related article
"Hurricane Craig, How Craig Cannon got FEMA to let disaster victims sue FEMA" , North Carolina Super Lawyers 2009,
February 2009.

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Also see related article:
* "ABA Pro Bono Publico Award, 2008 - Craig Cannon" (American Bar Association)

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Also see related topics:
* "Pro Bono Service" (
Legal Aid of North Carolina).
* "Private Attorney Involvement Coordinators" (Legal Aid of North Carolina)

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