The National Celebration of Pro Bono Week officially takes place during the last week of October each year, with events all over the country. Although it is dubbed a “week,” because the Celebration has engendered so much participation around the country, in many locations events begin early in October and often run through the first week of November. Last year, there were over 600 events in 48 states and Puerto Rico. Nearly 70% of those events were volunteer training or direct service events; the remainder were receptions, fundraisers, or awards ceremonies. Thus, many financially distressed and vulnerable citizens received much-needed legal service as a result of the week. This increase in direct services ultimately is the goal of the week, and it is anticipated that there will be even greater participation this year.
The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service sponsors the Week; the chair for the event this year is Sharon Goldsmith, who also chairs the National Celebration Resource Team, the planning committee for the Week. Sharon pointed out that a great deal of information about, and planning tips for, the Week can be found at www.celebrateprobono.org. The site provides links to numerous resources, including “Event Ideas,” which lists various events from prior years, such as awards ceremonies, clinics, CLE programs, fundraisers, new initiative kickoffs, and planning sessions.
The site also has a “Celebration Toolkit” to assist groups and individuals who wish to plan an event. The Toolkit links to an overview of last year’s Week and the Event Ideas page, to get the ideas flowing. It also contains numerous resources to help with the nuts and bolts: a Celebration Planning Guide that lists the events from the inaugural year of the Week (2009); “Celebration in a Box,” which contains two very useful documents, “Quick and Easy Ideas for Local Bar Leaders” and “Strategies for Organizing a Successful Pro Bono Celebration” (click first on the “Getting Started: Planning Materials” link); suggestions for organizing in law firms (in the “Organizing Tips and Planning Documents” folder); and sample flyers. Explore the site and get inspired—perhaps to start a direct service project or raise money for a local pro bono organization.
Kick Off a New Initiative
Indeed, the Celebration is a particularly useful forum for kicking off a new initiative. In the past two years, local bar associations, law firms, and law schools have kicked off a number of legal clinics, including a special education clinic in Texas, a foreclosure defense clinic in Florida, a pro se divorce clinic in Kentucky, a volunteer “attorney for a day” program to assist tenants facing eviction in New York, and a pilot project in South Dakota aimed at making the pro se filing process smoother for everyone—litigants, clerks, and judges. The Week has also seen the inauguration of the Law School Public Service Resource Handbook, published by the American Association of Law Schools; a door-to-door canvassing effort in Massachusetts to disseminate information to help prevent foreclosure; and the launch of the Federal Prisoner Reentry Pro Bono Project at Rutgers School of Law-Camden (www.camlaw.rutgers.edu/federal-prisoner-reentry-pro-bono-project). To search the entire database of past events for other ideas, click on “Advanced Search” in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and check out the options on the drop-down menus.
Sharon hopes this year’s Celebration will encourage lawyers to connect with other legal professionals and community service providers to swell the ranks of those participating in and starting new pro bono services around the country. Specifically, she hopes the Week will spur people to ask themselves what next steps they can take and how they can use Pro Bono Week to implement their ideas. She notes that members of the Resource Team are helping to solidify the planning process. Because participation across the spectrum of legal professionals is the only way pro bono service can continue to thrive, members of the Resource Team represent many aspects of the community: law firms, law schools, bar associations, and pro bono organizations.
Make a Difference
Planning for 2011 is still in the initial stages, but the Team relies on local bar associations, law schools, judges, and practitioners to generate ideas, plan events, and start new pro bono service projects. This means you! Meet with your peers, suggest that your local Young Lawyers Section sponsor an event, peruse the many planning resources on the Celebration’s website, and submit your ideas to the Team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, offer to have your event featured (not all planners want to be featured). The Week is a great opportunity for young lawyers to step into the spotlight, make a difference, develop skills, and network. Don’t miss out! Pro bono needs you.
For more information about the National Celebration of Pro Bono Week, visit www.celebrateprobono.org.