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October 01, 2012

LSC task force seeks to enhance pro bono services

A task force report released this month by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) identifies and recommends innovative ways to enhance pro bono services throughout the country.

The Pro Bono Task Force, convened by the LSC Board of Directors, included more than 60 leaders and experts from the judiciary, major corporations, private practice, law schools, the federal government and the legal aid community. The group was divided into five working groups: Best Practices–Urban; Best Practices –Rural; Obstacles; Technology; and Big Ideas.

The report considers how the LSC, its grantees and other stakeholders can narrow the justice gap through the regulation and effective engagement of pro bono lawyers.

The report makes recommendations to the LSC and urges bar leaders and the judiciary to take steps to recruit pro bono lawyers, and to support and applaud their pro bono efforts.

Bar associations, according to the report, can do the following to support and celebrate pro bono involvement by their members:

  • provide training;
  • offer funding for legal services;
  • develop and maintain pro bono programs;
  • provide a platform to educate others about legal services and the importance of pro bono work; and
  • recognize pro bono contributions of their members through awards.

One of the current efforts commended in the report is the annual ABA National Celebration of Pro Bono, sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and scheduled for Oct. 21-27 this year. During that week, lawyers will be volunteering legal services to thousands of low-income Americans at more than 700 events that include free legal clinics.

 “The National Pro Bono Celebration focuses the nation’s attention on the increased need for pro bono services during these challenging economic times and celebrates the outstanding work of lawyers who volunteer their services throughout the year,” ABA President Laurel G. Bellows said in announcing the celebration Oct. 16. “It is essential that the entire legal community  engage in conversation and action that results in equal access to justice for all,” she added. “The energy generated by the National Pro Bono Celebration is a powerful force that helps us build a just legal system.”

In addition to bar association actions, the courts have a unique ability to recruit and inspire lawyers to give back through pro bono, according to the report. The task force recommends that state judicial codes of conduct reflect Rule 3.7 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which expressly allows judges to encourage lawyers to provide pro bono services. Another recommendation is to allow lawyers to take on pro bono matters in jurisdictions other than those in which they are licensed to practice.

Recommendations for the LSC include:

  • forming a professional association of pro bono coordinators at LSC-funded organizations;
  • asking Congress to create a new Pro Bono Innovation/Incubation Fund modeled on LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant program; and
  • developing a fellowship program for new graduates and emeritus lawyers to build support for civil legal services and pro bono with law firms, law schools and the legal profession as a whole.
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