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Vol. 43, No. 3

Bars mark 10th annual National Pro Bono Celebration

by Marilyn Cavicchia

Each year in late October, bar associations and other law-related organizations across the United States observe the National Pro Bono Celebration (sometimes called Pro Bono Week). For the 2018 celebration—the 10th annual—the suggested theme from the ABA was a focus on disaster resiliency. Here’s a look at how some bars across the country marked this occasion.

Virgin Islands Bar Association

Along with Legal Services of the Virgin Islands Inc., The Virgin Islands Bar Association Young Lawyers Committee hosted a town hall event that covered disaster preparedness and how to help individuals supply the proof of homeownership that FEMA requires for some of its assistance. (Proof of homeownership was a major hurdle that caused a delay in recovery for many people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.)

Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis

On Oct. 23, as part of its Pro Bono CLE Series, the BAMSL Pro Bono Committee hosted a panel discussion called “Disaster Resiliency: How Our Legal Communities Can Prepare for and Help Others Recover.” The discussion covered post-disaster legal issues, including insurance disputes, FEMA appeals, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer fraud, and health and education issues. It also addressed the role that lawyers can play in disaster planning, via individual planning, business continuity planning, securing title documents, meeting insurance needs, and other assistance.

New Hampshire Bar Association

The NHBA conducted a full month of activities, focused not on disaster resiliency but mostly on legal assistance for victims of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project, part of the bar’s Pro Bono Referral Program, was highlighted in some of these events. Among the activities in October were: holding an all-day training seminar for current and prospective DOVE volunteers, capped off by a mock trial; participating in a conference to inform veterans about the bar’s pro bono programs, including DOVE and the NH Pro Bono Referral Program’s Low Income Taxpayer Project; and, in conjunction with the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire, hosting several meetings for anti-domestic violence professionals from India and the Middle East.

Alabama State Bar, Birmingham Bar Association, Tuscaloosa County Bar Association, Montgomery County Bar Foundation, Huntsville-Madison County Bar Association

A series of celebration events across Alabama kicked off on Oct. 2 in Tuscaloosa, where presiding Judge M. Bradley Almond shared “cake in the courthouse,” sponsored by the Tuscaloosa County Bar Association. On Oct. 3 in Montgomery, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a proclamation that named October as Pro Bono Month in Alabama. On Oct. 4, the Montgomery Volunteer Lawyers Program (MVLP), a program of the Montgomery County Bar Foundation, held a Pro Bono Month kick-off social. Each day in October, throughout the state, there was at least one pro bono-themed event (and often more). These included CLE programs, civil legal help desks and clinics, recognition ceremonies for exemplary pro bono service by lawyers and by law students, and a legal action line phone clinic in partnership with Huntsville’s WHNT-TV 19.

Tennessee Bar Association, Knoxville Bar Association

The state of Tennessee also saw a month-long series of pro bono-themed events, sponsored by various bar and law-related organizations and publicized by the Tennessee Bar Association. Among local bars, the Knoxville Bar Association was especially involved, hosting a number of clinics with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, including a Super Saturday Bar Advice Clinic in both Knox County and Blount County. Another noteworthy event was an expungement clinic conducted in Nashville by the Music City Community Court and the National Prison Summit on Mass Incarceration, with participation by the TBA Young Lawyers Division

Cleveland (Ohio) Metropolitan Bar Association

Together with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (and with other organizations, depending on the specific event), the CMBA celebrated Pro Bono Week with a full roster of events.  These included: 1) a Reach Out: Legal Assistance for Nonprofits Educational Seminar and Brief Advice Clinic with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts called "What a Novel Idea! Intellectual Property Overview for Nonprofits;” 2) Pro Se and Pro Se "Plus" Divorce Clinics at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, staffed by volunteers from the CMBA Family Law Section and sponsored by the Cleveland Law Library along with the bar and legal aid; and 3) the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Foundation’s 17th Annual Run for Justice, in support of the CMBA's pro bono and community programs such as The 3Rs, mock trial, and homeless legal assistance.

Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Bar Foundation

As highlighted by ABA President Bob Carlson in a televised interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Chicago is the birthplace of what has since become a national celebration. Thus, the CBA and CBF’s 2018 Pro Bono Week was the organizations’ 14th annual celebration. Highlights of the week included: an event at which lawyers and legal professionals learned how to volunteer with a program that helps ensure that all of Chicago’s polling places are fully accessible to voters with disabilities and older adults; a justice-themed “story slam” at a local brewery, attended by more than 100 people; and “Addressing the Hidden Impact of Evictions,” a standing-room-only CLE program on how legal aid advocates and pro bono attorneys in Chicago work to reduce the negative consequences of eviction and homelessness year-round.