Pro Bono Mythbusters
The Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters proves or disproves urban myths. For example, it has proven you probably won’t die if you mix Pop Rocks and Coca–Cola in your mouth or go swimming less than an hour after eating, and there are no giant alligators living in the sewers of New York City. It’s in this vein we debunk one of the biggest myths confronting attorneys today—that doing pro bono work takes too much time.
In a recent ABA study, 69 percent of lawyers polled said the main reason they don’t do pro bono is lack of time. But pro bono isn’t just representing clients in long, contested court cases. There are many pro bono opportunities that help nonprofit civil legal service providers while fitting into the busiest solo or small firm attorney’s schedule. Examples: brochure development, research, or educational courses.
Most civil legal services providers distribute written information to clients but keeping that information up to date can be a difficult task on top of an overflowing caseload. For the attorney whose practice covers the area of law addressed in the brochures, updating the information is a quick, self–contained pro bono task.
Small amounts of time can make a huge difference. Many programs have set up instruction for pro se litigants, utilizing lawyers who volunteer to instruct the litigants in various legal issues without actual representation. Most pro bono organizations also have clinics at locations such as a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter. They need lawyers to volunteer a few hours to help clients with legal problems. This is a great way to donate pro bono work without adding to your solo caseload.
There are also opportunities to help the growing needs of low-income clients, such as the national nonprofit Appleseed Project. A partner at Adams and Reese, a large firm in New Orleans, was recruited to direct Louisiana’s Appleseed as the ConocoPhillips/Adams and Reese Legal Fellow. She explains, "Appleseed asks lawyers to commit pro bono time to address problems at their root causes, producing practical, systemic solutions to effect change. For instance, Appleseed may have a transactional attorney working to bridge the gap between low–income communities and mainstream financial institutions." A large firm’s willingness to devote a full–time partner to pro bono efforts makes it that much easier for a solo or small firm practitioner to volunteer for Appleseed to do research or assist on a preexisting project.
So, what of the myth that you haven’t got the time to do pro bono? Sorry— it’s busted. Pro bono doesn’t have to add to your already busy caseload. It can even be a break from your everyday reality. And any time you can give — any time at all — can change another person’s reality for the better. And that’s a reality you just can’t ignore.
Stephanie McLaughlin and Monte Mollere are with the Louisiana State Bar Association Access to Justice Program, online at www.lsba.org/2007ATJ/.