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Pro Bono Digest: A New Work Year Begins

Thursday, September 18, 2003

  • By: William Dean
  • Organization: New York Law Journal

This article appeared in the September 5, 2003 edition of the New York Law Journal.

Pro Bono Digest

By William J. Dean


A New Work Year Begins


January 1 marks the start of the new year, but the work year begins the day following Labor Day. This is a time of renewed energy and commitment for lawyers returning to their work, and for law school graduates beginning their legal careers. It is an appropriate time to remind ourselves that under the Lawyer's Code of Professional Responsibility, "A lawyer has an obligation to render public interest and pro bono legal service." (Ethical Consideration 2-25.)

Opportunities to fulfill this obligation abound. Here are ways to proceed.

(1) Consult the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide
The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Volunteers of Legal Service and Pro Bono Net have published a new edition of Pro Bono Opportunities: A Guide for Lawyers in New York City. The guide provides information on about 90 pro bono programs in the city. The programs are listed under three headings: Pro Bono Opportunities with Bar Associations, Pro Bono Opportunities with Legal Services and Public Interest Organizations, and Pro Bono Opportunities with Court and Government Programs.

Each entry contains:
• a brief description of the program;
• the name of the person whom volunteer lawyers should contact at the organization;
• the areas in which pro bono assistance are needed;
• information concerning training and supervision;
• information as to malpractice insurance coverage; and
• information as to available Continuing Legal Education credit.
Following the program listings are an alphabetical index of the organizations with pro bono programs, a listing of programs that use volunteer paralegals, and a subject index designed to assist volunteer lawyers in identifying areas of interest.

The subject index to the guide conveys the enormous range of pro bono opportunities available in New York City. Subjects include: Arts. children, civil liberties/civil rights, community development, consumer, copyright, disabled, discrimination, domestic violence, education, elderly, employment, family law, government benefits, health, homeless, human rights, immigration, labor, landlord/tenant, mediation and arbitration, mental health, non-for-profit corporations, prisoners, substance abuse, veterans, and wills.

In an introduction to the guide, E. Leo Milonas, president of the City Bar Association, invites lawyers to participate in pro bono work:

I hope that this guide will facilitate your efforts to find pro bono opportunities and to use your legal skills for the public good. As you know, New York's Code of Professional Responsibility makes clear that pro bono work is an "obligation." Many of the lawyers who do volunteer legal work report that it is one of the most satisfying experiences of their careers. Whether you are a newly admitted attorney or have many years of practice behind you, there any many opportunities for you.

The guide is available on the websites of the City Bar Association (www.abcny.org) and Pro Bono Net (www.probono.net/ny).
Lawyers who want to do pro bono work elsewhere in the state should consult Pro Bono Opportunities: A Guide for Lawyers Outside of New York City, a publication of the Department of Pro Bono Affairs of the New York State Bar Association. This publication is available on the state bar association's website, www.nysba.org/probono.

For future use, Pro Bono Net is working with the City Bar Fund, the New York State Bar Association's Department of Pro Bono Affairs and Volunteers of Legal Service, to create a searchable, online pro bono opportunities guide for New York State. The online guide will allow lawyers to search for pro bono opportunities stored in a statewide database that combines the program information currently published separately by the city and state bar associations. Users will be able to use a web-based search form to identify pro bono programs offering volunteer opportunities by geographic region (county), type of project (litigation or non-litigation), area of practice (family, housing, immigration, etc.) or population served (children, elderly, victims of domestic violence, etc.). The online guide will allow programs throughout the state to update their profiles in real time as well as to post descriptions of individual cases for which pro bono counsel are needed. The online guide will be available in January, 2004, through any of the Pro Bono Net (www.probono.net/ny), City Bar (www.abcny.org) or State Bar (www.nysba.org/probono) websites.

(2) Use the Resources of Pro Bono Net

A mission of Pro Bono Net is to use information technology to increase the amount and quality of legal services provided to poor people and communities in New York by pro bono and public interest lawyers. Pro Bono Net offers these services:

(a) Training Calendar. "The New York City Pro Bono and Legal Services Training Calendar" lists training programs for lawyers who wish to perform pro bono work, or are already doing so. The monthly calendar is a joint project of the Legal Aid Society, the Legal Support Unit of Legal Services for New York City, Pro Bono Net, and Volunteers of Legal Service. It is available online at www.probono.net/ny. This month, trainings are being conducted by legal services and public interest organizations in these legal areas: arts, civil rights, disability, elderly, ethics, family/domestic violence, health, homelessness, housing, legal services, Medicaid, public benefits, and wills/estates.

(b) Practice Areas. Pro Bono Net provides training and background materials for lawyers new to a practice area, including sample motions, pleadings and briefs that can be searched and retrieved. Practice areas include: Asylum Law, hosted by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights; Community Development and Non-Profit Law, hosted by Lawyers Alliance for New York; Criminal Appeals, hosted by the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the Legal Aid Society; Death Penalty, hosted by the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project; Disability Rights, hosted by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Family Justice/Domestic Violence, hosted by inMotion, New York Legal Assistance Group, Sanctuary for Families, and the Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project; Housing, hosted by the Legal Support Unit of Legal Services for New York City and the Legal Aid Society; and the September 11th practice area. As part of a firm's pro bono orientation program, Laren E. Spirer, Practice Area Coordinator, is available to visit law firms to discuss the full range of Pro Bono Net resources.

(c) Volunteer Clearinghouse. The Pro Bono Net Volunteer Clearinghouse lists cases in need of volunteer lawyers. The cases have been posted by legal services and public interest organizations in the city. Cases presently in need of pro bono lawyers include matters in these legal areas: adoption, estate, foreclosure, housing, bankruptcy, public benefits, tax, community economic development, employment, pensions, non-profit organizations, corporate governance, real estate, intellectual property and immigration.

(3) Attend New Associates Pro Bono Day
On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 18, the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York will present an introduction to pro bono opportunities for associates in their first two years of practice. (More senior associates also are invited to participate.) Some forty law firms are sponsoring the event. The program will include training sessions in various substantive areas. Past training topics have included, formation of, and advising not-for-profit corporations; advising microentrepreneurs; special education; employment litigation; how to handle a consumer bankruptcy; the nuts and bolts of a non-payment housing court proceeding; and orders of protection in domestic disputes. Lawyers interested in attending the event should contact the Association's website concerning details.

In addition to there being effective pro bono structures already in place and easily accessible by lawyers, law firms actively encourage their lawyers to participate in pro bono work. Here are examples of this encouragement:

Equal access to justice should be a basic human right. By supporting and encouraging legal service organizations and, most importantly, by freely giving of our time and energy through direct representation of indigent clients, we ensure that persons of limited means have a voice in our legal system. (White & Case)

The representation of pro bono clients is an important part of this firm's practice....We want the pro bono practice to continue to flourish across all departments of the firm, and we invite you to take on a pro bono matter. (Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison)

The goals of the firm's pro bono program are to encourage all lawyers to pursue the kind of voluntary pro bono commitment they find rewarding...so that our efforts are broadly channeled and likely to benefit either deserving individuals or recognized groups; and to use pro bono as a vehicle for early client responsibility and training. (Davis Polk & Wardwell)

Pro bono work creates an opportunity for "equal justice" by enabling attorneys to address the unmet legal needs of those with limited access to legal services. The firm encourages and values pro bono work, recognizing not only the needs of the indigent and our attorneys' ethical obligation to contribute in this manner, but also the personal needs of our attorneys to add value to the legal profession. (Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton)

A lawyer undertaking a pro bono or other public service matter is expected to devote sufficient time and effort to conform to the high professional standards to which the firm adheres on all client representations, and work on public service matters is taken into account in evaluating a lawyer's overall professional performance and potential. (Sullivan & Cromwell)

But in the end, each lawyer must make a personal decision. Heart, mind and spirit must be open to helping those in need. May each of us heed these words of Hippocrates, writing of the obligations of another of the great professions:

Sometimes give your services for nothing, calling to mind a previous benefaction or present satisfaction. And if there be an opportunity of serving one who is a stranger in financial straits, give full assistance to all such.... For where there is love of man, there is also love of the art.
____________________________________________________________________
William J. Dean is executive director of Volunteers of Legal Service.ll

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