Celebrate Pro Bono Week expands to meet growing demand of nation's poor

Lawyers have a long tradition of providing pro bono services to Americans in need of legal assistance. For the third successive year, the American Bar Association is coordinating a national strategy to recognize pro bono work done by lawyers every day during its Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Oct. 23-29.

This year, more than 650 pro bono events are scheduled to take place in at least 45 states across the country. Programs include a Seattle educational seminar on the Foreclosure Fairness Act, developed by the Seattle University School of Law; a consumer debt workshop in Easton, Md., organized by Mid-Shore Pro Bono, Legal Aid Bureau; and hundreds of additional pro bono events designed to educate lawyers and provide legal services to communities and individuals in need. Information about Celebrate Pro Bono Week events is available at www.probono.net/celebrateprobono/

"During these difficult economic times, volunteer work by lawyers helps fill the void left by our underfunded court and legal aid systems," said ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III. Robinson has been active highlighting the positive impact lawyers make every day in providing pro bono and public service to individuals, non-profits, community groups and organizations around the country.

The week-long celebration is organized by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, which reports that 80 percent of the civil legal needs of the poor are not being met. "A legal system isn't just or fair if it is not accessible to the most vulnerable in society," said Robinson. He notes that 40 states experienced reductions in their judicial budgets last year, contributing to hardship for those needing legal help.

ABA Model Rule 6.1 suggests that every lawyer provide 50 hours of pro bono service each year. A recent survey administered by the association showed that only approximately one-fourth of the sample indicated that they had provided 50 hours or more of free legal services to persons of limited means or to organizations that support the needs of persons of limited means. This year, the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is looking to increase that number, and to create more sustainable environments for lawyers to contribute pro bono hours.

The committee has initiated a national online conversation, "Let's Talk and Listen: The Future of Pro Bono," seeking ideas from members of the legal profession concerned about expanding access to justice. It hopes to develop new ways to meet the growing demand for legal services for low-income Americans.

Published: Mon, Oct 24, 2011