From the Chair...
Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service
One reason why a lot of people don't practice what they preach is they haven't the least idea what it is they are preaching.
— Jack Haney, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, La., March 8, 1927
I have been a member of the ABA, my entire career as a lawyer, and have been proud of my various associations with different ABA groups and leadership entities during those years. In my most current role, serving as chairman of the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, I was recently reminded that my pride as an ABA member is based in large part on the fact that the ABA knows what it stands for and is committed to working to achieve those goals. We are an organization which does, indeed, practice what it preaches.
ABA Goal II, focused on Improving the Legal Profession, has three objectives, the third of which is to "promote pro bono and public service." Our Committee has the privilege of being the principal ABA group charged with ensuring access to justice through the expansion and enhancement of the delivery of legal and other law-related services to the underserved through volunteer efforts of legal professionals nationwide. We pursue that charge through programmatic, policy, education, leadership and much more as we work with multiple constituent groups and individual attorneys and judges across the country. The Pro Bono Committee does not, however, carry the pro bono flag for the ABA alone.
At a recently convened meeting, hosted by the ABA Board's Program, Evaluation and Planning Committee representatives of over 30 different groups with an existing pro bono committee, project or initiative gathered to share information about their work and to strategize about how internal ABA groups can grow their commitment to Goal II. The discussion we had that day in February was educational, vibrant and stimulating. Most importantly those gathered agreed that there needed to be a more comprehensive approach to internal ABA pro bono efforts involving both better communication and exploration of partnering opportunities. My offer to have the Standing Committee on Pro Bono serve as a facilitator of information collection and dissemination across the ABA was accepted by the group.
Following the February meeting I shared with the Pro Bono Committee my experience learning more about the extensive commitment the ABA has to pro bono and the recommendations that were discussed that day. From that discussion and a subsequent conversation with Mark Schickman – a former Pro Bono Committee chair and current chair of the ABA Board's Program, Evaluation and Planning Committee – a next steps action plan is being developed. The action plan will focus on cataloguing information; providing tools, training and resources to help groups build their pro bono efforts; creating effective communication vehicles; and developing opportunities for collaboration.
In reflecting on this recent experience, it strikes me that every organization in the legal profession – bar associations, law firms, corporate law departments, law schools, government attorney offices and others – can follow the ABA's example in their own way to practice what they preach about pro bono. Starting with having a clear vision of your pro bono mission, what are the organizational strategies you can undertake to engage your lawyers, your students or your members? What leadership role can you play, individually and institutionally? What resources do you have, or do you need, to ensure that there is a coordinating and comprehensive strategy for implementing your pro bono vision?
Practicing what you preach is about acting on what you believe. I hope that your organization believes in pro bono as much as the ABA and that your actions to build a strong pro bono culture and active pro bono service will flow from those beliefs accordingly.