June 15, 2018 Dialogue

Celebrating Pro Bono Across America

When a local attorney signed up for her local legal clinic's National Celebration of Pro Bono event at the homeless shelter, she was just planning to get in a few pro bono hours at the end of the year. After helping three homeless youth fill out forms to obtain ID and access educational services, she was hooked and now provides pro bono services on a regular basis.

Every October since 2009, legal organizations across America participate in the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service's (The Committee) National Celebration of Pro Bono. The Committee chose to launch the National Celebration of Pro Bono because of the increasing need for pro bono services during harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand. Organizations are encouraged to plan and participate in events to recognize the work of pro bono attorneys and to increase pro bono participation and expand legal services to low-income individuals and groups.

The Ninth Annual National Celebration of Pro Bono took place from October 22 - 28, 2017. Organizations across the country, including bar associations, legal aid organizations, law schools, law firms, corporate legal departments, and many more, sponsored over 1,350 events during the months of September and October. Over seven hundred organizations took part in the 2017 Celebration and events were held in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Organizations sponsored a variety of events ranging from legal clinics, continuing legal education seminars, recruitment events, awards and recognition for pro bono attorneys, and community outreach or fundraising events.

While the National Celebration is typically a weeklong event, some states have expanded their Celebrations into the entire month of October. Alabama, Michigan, and Tennessee are just a few of the states that sponsor an entire pro bono month. The Louisiana Bar Association holds "Lawyers in Libraries" events throughout the state during the month of October. In 2017, lawyers were available in over seventy-five locations throughout Louisiana to provide free limited legal services to individuals in need. The Los Angeles Law Library holds an annual Pro Bono Week, which hosts workshops, clinics, and CLEs. The D.C. Bar, Kansas Bar, and Philadelphia and Allegheny County Bars are just a few organizations that have hosted fundraisers in which participants could "buy" the privilege to wear casual clothes to work by donating to local pro bono causes.

Many organizations host events to show their appreciation for their volunteer attorneys. In 2017, Legal Aid of West Virginia staff hand-delivered lunch and appreciation baskets throughout the week to their volunteers. Community Legal Aid in Ohio hosted several Pancake Appreciation breakfasts in which judges served pancakes to volunteer attorneys. Despite the hurricanes, both Florida and Texas had impressive numbers of events, many of which were related to disaster relief efforts. Florida and Texas also had exciting social media campaigns showing appreciation for their volunteers and encouraging attorneys to sign-up for cases. ABA President Hilarie Bass attended a Hurricane Irma Clinic sponsored by the Cuban American Bar Association and Legal Services of Greater Miami on October 24, in which she served as a pro bono attorney assisting clients with disaster relief legal services.

During the 2017 National Celebration, in conjunction with ABA President Hilarie Bass and the ABA Homeless Youth Legal Network, participants were encouraged to host events focusing on homeless individuals and homeless youth. Organizations responded to that call, hosting approximately one hundred events to serve the legal needs of homeless individuals. Capital University in Columbus, Ohio centered their entire week of events around services for homeless youth. They hosted a hygiene item collection drive for local shelters, participated in legal clinics for homeless youth, and hosted a CLE entitled "Differing Views on Youth Homelessness." The ABA Homeless Youth Legal Network sponsored an event at Covenant House in Washington, DC which brought together various stakeholders to collaborate on the new Homeless Youth Legal Network pro bono program. Other events included Legal Clinics in several states, "Know your Rights" presentations, and events for veterans experiencing homelessness.

The Tenth Annual National Celebration of Pro Bono will take place from October 21 - 27, 2018. The Committee is proudly joining with ABA President-elect Bob Carlson to encourage organizations to plan and participate in events focused on disaster resiliency as part of the 2018 National Celebration of Pro Bono. September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, which is the perfect lead up to the 2018 National Celebration of Pro Bono.

Disaster survivors face countless legal issues including insurance disputes, FEMA appeals, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer fraud, health and education issues, and so much more. Moreover, even before a disaster strikes, communities need legal assistance with disaster preparedness through business continuity planning, securing title documents, meeting insurance needs, and other assistance.

We are asking participants in the 2018 National Celebration of Pro Bono to do their part to assist with disaster resiliency efforts by offering pro bono assistance to survivors or evacuees of disasters or by helping your community to prepare for a disaster. The Celebration website, www.celebrateprobono.org, will offer resources to help plan events in your community.

As always, the National Celebration of Pro Bono focused a spotlight on the amazing work of America's pro bono attorneys. Above are just a few examples of the amazing work that organizations and attorneys across the country do every day to meet the legal needs of those who can't afford an attorney. You can view the additional events and resources at the National Celebration of Pro Bono site. Save the date for the 2018 National Celebration of Pro Bono: October 21 - 27, 2018. For the tenth anniversary of the Celebration, we hope to have your help to keep the momentum going with an even greater number of events to increase pro bono legal services on a national scale.