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Oklahoma Lawyers Making Equal Justice for all a Reality

Pro bono work important to all

Friday, November 06, 2009

Ralph Schaefer
11/5/2009

When Allen Smallwood looked out over the gathering of attorneys at the Tulsa County Bar Association who were doing pro bono work he felt like he was preaching to the choir.

The incoming Oklahoma Bar Association president and Tulsa County Bar Association member acknowledged area attorneys willing to help people at no cost who otherwise would have no access to the legal system.

The reception at the Tulsa County Bar Association honored some attorneys involved in pro bono work.

Nonprofit agencies, Catholic Charities, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Tulsa Lawyers for Children, and Volunteer Central of Greater Tulsa also had representatives at the event.

‘‘We should be talking to people in the legal profession who are not here,’’ Smallwood said. ‘‘Attorneys not involved in pro bono work need to be encouraged to participate.’’

Smallwood said he thought about making it mandatory that all attorneys in the state do 40 hours of pro bono work annually, but decided against the idea after talking with Supreme Court Justice Jim Edmondson.

‘‘Justice Edmondson pointed out that requirement very likely would violate the 13th amendment,’’ he said. ‘‘If pro bono service can’t be required, perhaps we can shame other attorneys into taking cases.’’

Smallwood, who has a criminal defense practice, said most of his clients can afford an attorney.

‘‘But I can’t tell you the number of clients I have represented who are strong leaders that just crumble when faced with going to Federal Court on Fourth Street,’’ he said. ‘‘Imagine the feelings that people have in similar situations with a limited income.

‘‘Unless people like you step forward to help, God only knows what would happen Compensation in these cases is very little or nothing.’’

It is important to work with the Young Lawyers Division to encourage new attorneys to do some pro bono work early in their career, Smallwood said. Many lawyers already are committed to their community.

Look at the boards they serve on, he said. Attorneys are tremendous assets because they are trained problem solvers regardless of whether or not legal issues are involved. Many people are helped because of these efforts.

Attorneys are the last group to benefit and get credit for their work, Smallwood said. ‘‘We need to let the public know what we are doing. We are well paid for some of our work with clients, but we also are the best asset available because of pro bono service. We need to pat ourselves on the back.’’

Court of Appeals Judge Jane Wiseman, who served as honorary chair for the event, said the Tulsa County Bar was a great place to belong with all the energy that had been put into pro bono work.

‘‘I get solicitations from many groups and when I look at the board of directors, I don’t see doctors or dentists listed,’’ she said. ‘‘But these boards are filled with attorneys.’’

Wiseman praised attorneys Anne Sublett and Faith Orlowski who were attending for their extensive volunteer work.

She also said that Smallwood would be doing a year of pro bono work through his role as Oklahoma Bar Association president.

Proclamations recognizing Pro Bono Week were read by City Attorney and Tulsa County Bar President Deirdre Dexter on behalf of Mayor Kathy Taylor.

Tulsa County Bar Foundation President Leonard Pataki read a joint resolution in support of Pro Bono week from the bar association and bar foundation.

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