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September 23, 2019 Practice Points

Professional Responsibility for the Public Good

Do not be afraid to do pro bono work, to step up for others and out of your comfort zone.

By Kasey Mitchell Adams

October is known for many things—Breast Cancer Awareness, Halloween, college football, and pumpkin spice lattes to name a few. But October is also home to the National Celebration of Pro Bono, which is taking place this year from October 20–26. This is an opportunity to celebrate the importance of the work we as professionals do to give back to society.

The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1 states, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Many states, in their rules of professional conduct, have adopted some form of pro bono requirement, so this directive to serve the public should come as no surprise to any of you.

But do you ever find yourself just going through the motions to be able to check the box at the end of the year or deciding to donate some money to a charitable legal organization because you were not able to donate your time? Do not get me wrong, donating money is great and sometimes life just gets in the way of our ability to donate more of our time. That is okay. And other times we are just going through the motions. But when we focus on the why—why it is important to engage in pro bono efforts—I hope it leads us to make more of an effort to create opportunities to give back.

So the why—why pro bono? When colleagues who make pro bono efforts a priority are asked why they do it, a common thread runs through their answers. As lawyers, the most valuable resource we have is our time. When we give that valuable resource for free to those in need, the return on investment is ten-fold. Our judicial system is critical to our society, and we as lawyers have a responsibility to ensure that the legal system works as intended. If we have masses of people who need access to the judicial system but do not have it due to financial limitations, that is not how the judicial system was intended to work. We as lawyers have an important opportunity to at least do our part in mitigating that flaw in our judicial system.

And from a practical standpoint, particularly for young lawyers, pro bono work is not only a great chance to give back to your community and support a good cause but it is also a great chance to get some real and valuable legal experience. Pro bono cases give you an opportunity to present an issue to a judge, try a case, or explore an area of the law that you otherwise may not have a chance to do in your career. Do not be afraid to step up for others and out of your comfort zone.

So the how—how to pro bono? Everyone has something that they care about, and the great thing about pro bono work is that the type of service you can offer is limitless. Whether you have a special place in your heart for adoption, immigration, criminal law, veterans, animals, or anything eles that moves you, there is a way you can give back in that area. 

As lawyers, we have such a unique opportunity to put our specialized training to work for causes and people that otherwise would not have a voice. So find a way to get involved. Encourage your firms to invest in and support pro bono efforts and celebrations like the upcoming National Celebration of Pro Bono. Find organizations in your community that are in need. Research the efforts your state provides, such as a state-wide volunteer lawyers project. For more information on efforts you can engage in and how to be a part of the 2019 National Celebration of Pro Bono, please visit the ABA website. Most importantly, find a way to get involved in your own way. Trust me, it’s worth it!

Kasey Mitchell Adams is an attorney with Butler Snow LLP in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).