Attorneys invited to participate in Pro Bono Fairs during Oct.

By Debra Talcott

Legal News

The countdown is underway for "October is Pro Bono Month." For the third consecutive year, the State Bar of Michigan will join other states across the nation in designating the entire month of October as a time to focus on the importance of pro bono legal assistance to those in need. To that end, "Pro Bono Fair 2011: Connecting Lawyers with Opportunities" will be held at four locations around the state on three separate dates.

Dykema Gossett will host the Detroit fair on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Renaissance Center. Cooley Law School will host the Oakland and Macomb fair on Thursday, Oct. 6, at its Auburn Hills campus, the Grand Rapids fair on Oct. 11 at its Grand Rapids campus, and the Lansing fair on Oct. 17 at its Lansing campus. Attorneys who attend one of the four statewide events will learn about legal services organizations and how their particular talents can be utilized to benefit the underserved in our communities.

"The goal of these events is to attract new pro bono volunteer attorneys," says John Nussbaumer, dean of Cooley's Auburn Hills campus. "We will get all the providers in one room so they can share their information with the attorneys."

Pro bono month also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor those in the profession who already volunteer their time or who donate to legal aid programs through the Access to Justice Campaign, which is a partnership among the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan State Bar Foundation, and various legal services providers. In an effort to get more attorneys involved, the State Bar Voluntary Pro Bono Standard has set an aspirational goal of 30 hours of service or a $300 donation for every attorney in the state.

"The poorest among us are suffering without equal access to the legal system," says SBM Pro Bono Service Counsel Rob Mathis. "It is estimated that no more than 20 percent of the legal needs of the poor are being met. But Michigan lawyers are uniquely suited to provide legal help to the poor because only lawyers can provide legal assistance," he says, in a plea for more widespread participation in pro bono activities.

Attorneys, as a group, are known for giving back to the community, and Michigan lawyers, in particular, have exhibited generosity toward the poor and underserved who might not otherwise gain access to legal assistance. Yet the need for pro bono is greater this year than at any prior time. Michigan's unemployment rate is the highest in the nation, and foreclosure rates continue to climb. Legal issues resulting from the fragile economy are mounting for those Michigan residents least able to deal with such problems.

It is estimated that more than 3 million Michigan citizens--nearly a third of the state's population--now qualify for free legal aid because their annual incomes fall below government guidelines. More than 40 percent of all Michigan's children live in households that qualify for free legal aid. Despite the dedication of current legal aid programs, however, nearly half of those who apply for assistance are turned away because the programs lack the necessary human and monetary resources to meet the current needs of residents.

Recognizing this growing need, the leading law firms of Dickinson Wright, Dykema Gossett, and Foster Swift will serve as sponsors of this year's events. Legal Aid of Western Michigan will sponsor and participate in the Grand Rapids Pro Bono Fair.

Attorneys who attend the pro bono fairs are under no obligation to make a time commitment. The fairs are intended to be an opportunity to network with colleagues and to learn ways to provide pro bono service. For additional information about these upcoming events, go to www.michbar.org/probono.cfm or contact Rob Mathis at rmathis@mail.michbar.org.

Published: Thu, Sep 29, 2011