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November 12, 2020

Pro Bono 2020: Lawyers respond to COVID-19 and more with free legal services

Thousands of lawyers, law firms, law schools and pro bono organizations across the country participated in volunteer events as part of the National Pro Bono Celebration, which ran from Oct. 25-31. This year, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo asked attorneys to address the need for legal assistance for issues arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 800 pro bono events were held in October in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

“Now more than ever, we all have witnessed the growing need for pro bono legal services as a response to COVID-19,” Refo said.  “During these difficult times, countless lawyers have met the challenge to provide legal assistance during the pandemic. Though many pro bono programs will be virtual this year, the ABA’s commitment to our communities hasn’t changed. As we recognize the power of pro bono lawyers and programs around the country, we know that together, we will continue to make a difference.”

COVID-19 related events addressed domestic violence, accessible voting, sick leave and mental health, among other issues. Events offered during the week also included free estate-planning services in Nevada, anti-eviction aid in Jacksonville, Florida, a legal aid clinic organized by South Carolina School of Law and the South Carolina Bar Association and a conversation with kids about immigrants and fairness in Washington, D.C.

Added this year was ABA Giving Day, which took place on Oct. 29. The day was organized by the ABA Fund for Justice and Education, the association’s charitable 501(c)3 arm. It solicited donations for eight ABA programs that “counter the impact of COVID-19 and champion racial justice across America,”  including the Section of Litigation’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, the Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline’s Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund and ABA Free Legal Answers. The effort raised around $100,000, among other initiatives.

During Pro Bono Week, Refo also issued a letter to bar leaders nationwide asking them to mobilize lawyers to assist in eviction-related pro bono efforts, saying that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession “our country is facing unprecedented needs for pro bono services.”

The effort, part of the ABA’s new COVID-19 Pro Bono Network, is a project of the ABA Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic.

Media from across the country covered local events from free online legal consultations to virtual events that provided legal answers about bankruptcy, custody, collection matters, divorce, foreclosures, Social Security and Medicaid and more. The ABA also used twitter and LinkedIn to amplify information on events, recognition campaigns and recruitment sponsored by bar associations, law firms, law schools, legal services organizations, pro bono organizations and corporate legal departments.