From the Chair...

Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service

The Pro Bono Committee is the principal entity charged with the missions of developing and expanding pro bono policies, programs, and representation throughout the United States. The Committee focuses on supporting institutions and attorneys that provide pro bono civil legal services to poor people. Those missions are accomplished through policy development; technical assistance; preparation, collection, and dissemination of information and material; special projects; pro bono awards and recognition; annual conferences; and other strategies. I believe the resources and expertise of the Committee, and its projects, represent the best of what the ABA can be.

My term as Chair of the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Services ends with the 2013 Annual Meeting. Mary Ryan of Boston will serve as our new Chair and will be a thoughtful, dynamic leader. Still, I thought a brief report and forecast from me might be in order as my tenure draws to a close.

This past February the Pro Bono Committee released the third iteration of a national empirical study of the level of pro bono provided by America's lawyers. While the data itself is impressive, our Committee is particularly interested in lessons learned — the steps that can be implemented by legal employers, bar associations, state bars, pro bono programs, law schools, and others to advance the provision of pro bono services. Some of these steps include the following:

  • Providing ongoing education about the definition of pro bono and continuing to emphasize in both policies and programs the importance of lawyers in providing direct free civil legal services to poor people;

  • Increasing education to all lawyers, in all practice settings, about the legal needs of the poor and the impact those needs have on communities, the courts, and the legal system;

  • Developing increased mentoring resources and opportunities for attorneys to co–counsel (e.g., sharing the responsibility for a case);

  • Expanding the range of case–type and representational options available to prospective volunteers;

  • Educating lawyers about the opportunities, resources, and support services that organized pro bono referral programs provide to volunteers, including the provision of malpractice insurance;

  • Either matching the expertise of the attorney to whom a case is referred or providing support to help overcome the expertise gap;

  • Encouraging State Bars to consider rule modifications permitting partial representation and the use of retired or unlicensed attorneys;

  • Recruiting state and federal judges to lend their expertise, prestige, and leadership to the pro bono effort.

In October, 2011 the Pro Bono Committee convened a two day National Pro Bono Summit to facilitate a new discussion about the future of pro bono. The energy generated during the event, and the ideas that were developed, have resonated throughout our work since then. Particular progress has been made to further engage judges as pro bono leaders across the country, to develop new and more accessible resources on pro bono best practices, and to improve existing standards for pro bono programs. Although the pro bono delivery system has grown significantly since the early 1980's, clearly there is enthusiasm for fresh ideas, new leadership, and innovation.

The Pro Bono Committee has devoted considerable time to establishing itself as the principal resource on pro bono activities for other ABA entities. Our efforts have including consulting with section pro bono committees on the development of pro bono projects, serving as a resource on pro bono program management to the recipients of pro bono project grants, and co–sponsoring publications, projects, and programs. The Committee also actively seeks involvement of other ABA entities in the annual Equal Justice Conference which it co–sponsors with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. While the Committee's role is essential in helping the ABA to live by its core values, I hope that the model we've established within the ABA resonates with other bar associations across the country with whom we collaborate.

The future of pro bono depends on new collaborations and their success in recruiting more attorneys to represent poor people in civil matters. The Pro Bono Committee is pleased to be working with the Pro Bono Task Force of the Legal Services Corporation, with Pro Bono Net, with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and with other national organizations which have deepened their own focus on expanding pro bono representation. These collaborations are essential and serve to enhance the ABA's values and work in significant and meaningful ways that can make the promise of freedom a reality in the lives of the most vulnerable of our citizens.

From my work on the Committee I have developed a deeper appreciation for the ABA's leadership in the area of pro bono and the legal profession's vast commitment to serving poor people and the greater cause of justice. Through the ABA I believe our Committee has made a difference, and I look forward to participating as we branch into new efforts to develop, enhance and expand our pro bono efforts. It has been an honor to be part of the developing story of pro bono in America.