Pro Bono Through Public Education
David Trevaskis is the Pro Bono Coordinator of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2004, Congress established September 17 (the day the United States Constitutional Convention signed the U.S. Constitution in 1787) as “Constitution Day,” a federal holiday. On this day, the law mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programming on the history of the Constitution. Constitution Day kicks off the school year each fall and provides a great opportunity for attorney involvement in public education about the law.
It is a great time for lawyers to call schools to which they are connected as alums, as parents, and as members of the community and ask if the schools would like help in setting up their mandated Constitution Day programming. Participation in law-related and civic education programs has been a growing means through which attorneys contribute to the public good.
A lawyer who renders public service to improve access to justice is simply doing what all lawyers are asked to do as part of their professional duty. The need for such public service is great; in Pennsylvania, for example, nearly 80 percent of the poor do not have access to attorneys and therefore have limited access to our justice system. ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1, Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service, is not limited to direct legal representation of poor clients. A lawyer may perform this service “by participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.” Providing education about the law, in a nation guided by the rule of law, constitutes such public service.
There are many programs available through local and state bar associations for the larger community, including the ABA/YLD’s Public Service Projects (visit www.abanet.org/yld/public_service.html
), People’s Law Schools, where lawyers provide easy-to-understand presentations on various legal disciplines, and Teen Courts, where lawyers teach young people how to conduct trials of peer offenders and work to oversee such youth courts. An attorney provides mentorship to young people learning about the justice system by coaching a mock trial team or moot court team that competes before local judges or lawyers. While providing valuable education to young people, the attorney coach will likely develop client contacts through the students, teachers, parents, other attorneys, and judges involved in the program.
The number of events to choose from can be overwhelming, but becoming involved in as few as one or two renders valuable service to the community, benefits the legal profession by dispelling any negative portrayal of our profession, and provides a network of potential business contacts.