Attorney's Angle: Pro bono work brings out best in community

A wise man once said, The best thing to give your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity. Many feel that while pro bono service is a worthwhile endeavor, it is better left to others who have more time and financial means to deal with such matters. In short, they ask, what can I gain from such an undertaking and how will it positively impact my bottom line?

If participation in the legal profession is strictly for financial gain, the remainder of this article would probably not be of much interest to you. However, if you are also driven by the notion of participating in something greater than yourself and the improvement of the communities in which we live and work, then I believe you advocate charity. Charity, in the context of pro bono services, paves the way for community empowerment.

There are many reasons why this is true. The effect of providing pro bono services to an individual, family or business is felt exponentially throughout the community where you provide the service. Each matter you take on helps provide safeguards against inequality, injustice, and corruption throughout the community. Each time a pro bono service is performed for those who would not otherwise be able to afford legal representation, it assures the integrity of our legal system as a whole. This form of representation stands up and screams that JUSTICE is not dictated by the deepest pockets or afforded only to those with means.

Ask yourself, why do lawyers spend valuable time supporting their community and doing pro bono legal work for free? The answer is fairly simple. It is because it is part of who we are. From the outset, civic duty has been a tradition for lawyers in America. Many of the most important founding figures of our democracy were lawyers. Like those historic figures, todays lawyers are in a better position than most to exercise a kind of civic leadership that is so deeply needed. In doing so, we make an immediate and significant impact in the lives of those in our community that need help and have nowhere else to turn.

As President of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (DMBA), I have had a unique opportunity to see how important pro bono service is. I am particularly proud of my dedicated colleagues who have provided needed legal services to the citizens of the Detroit metropolitan community. The DMBA has a long history of providing public service within the community it serves. A key part of that service is the Access to Justice Committee (formerly known as the Volunteer Lawyers program), comprised of a dedicated panel of attorneys from all areas in the legal community involved in Pro Bono work not because it is the thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do. If you are willing to take the step, there is a place for you. Here are just a few examples:

The Detroit Legal Services Clinic, which began more than 10 years ago, represents collaboration among General Motors, Ford, Honigman Miller, and the DMBA. Last year our participating firms and members were able to assist more than 200 clients referred by local legal service providers.

Most recently, the DMBA, through the efforts of its Foundation and working in conjunction with the State Bar of Michigan, held the first ever Wayne County Pro Bono Summit. Under the leadership of Steve Cernak of General Motors and Peggy Costello from Dykema, more than 100 people attended the all-day event. We were able to bring together persons from all levels of the areas legal community: large and small firms, solo practitioners, government lawyers, the judiciary, and corporate legal staff, and allow them the opportunity to meet with representatives from all of the local legal service providers, as well as community service organizations. We have developed work groups which will be going forward to work on identified problem areas, as the DMBA seeks to foster the creation of a culture of pro bono in our membership.

As you can see, there is no shortage of need in our community. Fortunately, the DMBA and others like us have programs in place to provide those needed services. However, we cannot do this alone. We are looking for attorneys who are willing to take on a pro bono matter and potentially change the lives of many. The reward to those you help will stretch beyond the boundaries and confines of your case. You will empower them to believe in the legal system and trust that their rights will not be dictated by the financial constraints of their position. Who better to offer such hope than you? 

By Douglas Hampton. Douglas Hampton, president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, is an attorney in Southfield. He can be reached at (248) 351-2682.

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