Young Lawyers and the National Celebration of Pro Bono
By Jaye Rancourt and Steven Scudder
Jaye Rancourt is ABA YLD Affiliates Director and practices with the Manchester, New Hampshire, firm of Brennan Caron Lenehan & Iacopino. Steven Scudder is counsel to the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service in Chicago, Illinois.
After years of discussion and planning for an annual national celebration of pro bono, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service chose 2009 as the optimum time to launch this important initiative. At the ABA Annual Meeting last year in New York, plans for the National Pro Bono Celebration were announced; the inaugural Celebration will take place the week of October 25–31, 2009.
The confluence of two circumstances makes the timing of this celebration ideal: the increasing need for pro bono services as economic conditions worsen and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this need. Although national in breadth, this initiative provides an opportunity for local legal organizations nationwide to do two things: they can collaboratively commemorate the vitally important contributions of America’s lawyers, and they can recruit the many additional volunteers required to meet the growing demand.
During the National Celebration of Pro Bono week, segments of the legal community will showcase local and statewide efforts that demonstrate the great difference that pro bono lawyers make to our nation, our system of justice, our communities, and, most of all, to the clients whom they serve. The National Celebration of Pro Bono provides a particular opportunity for Young Lawyers Division affiliates to coordinate and implement exciting and meaningful pro bono projects in their communities. Given that many ABA YLD affiliates serve as the public service arms of their larger bar associations, they are uniquely situated to step up and participate in this Celebration.
The response to Celebration planning has been enthusiastic: national, statewide, and local partners, including other ABA entities, are working to implement this initiative, developing hundreds of Celebration Week events across the country. Over 200 leaders of the judicial, legal education, and bar communities are serving as an Honorary Advisory Committee, and more than 100 groups have already committed to holding pro bono events. As momentum increases, it is anticipated that hundreds of events will take place throughout the nation as part of the National Celebration.
The project’s website, , is critical to providing information, resources, and support to those groups interested in hosting events in their communities. The site also is key to collecting and disseminating information about what groups are doing nationwide. It includes a comprehensive list of all Celebration Week activities and will soon have an interactive map linking to details of local events. In addition, the website contains information on publicity tips and strategies, sample press releases, public service announcements, proclamations and resolutions, op-eds, talking points, and creative ways to spotlight pro bono during Celebration Week.
Events already scheduled are diverse in form, substance, and sponsoring entity. Law schools have planned symposia, bar associations partnering with legal services groups are holding day-long strategic planning gatherings, state bars are coordinating statewide days of service, and law firms and pro bono referral organizations are collaborating on walk-in and call-in clinics. In some locales, events are planned for each day of the Celebration Week.
In commenting on his hopes for the National Pro Bono Celebration Week, Mark Schickman, Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, noted that “over 80% of the legal needs of America’s poor remain unmet. Despite our best efforts, this number will grow, as more Americans than ever slip into poverty. We dedicate this week to the quest for more volunteers to help meet that need.”
As gatekeepers of justice, attorneys are rising to the challenge of ensuring the fairness and integrity of our system of laws by providing access to legal processes for the poorest Americans. The National Celebration of Pro Bono will enhance and highlight the ongoing efforts by so many in the legal community who work tirelessly throughout the year to meet the legal needs of people who are poor. Most importantly, the Celebration will draw even more attorneys into the pro bono community, increasing our profession’s ability to meet one of our greatest responsibilities: providing access to justice for Americans living on the social margins.
Pro bono initiatives provide a unique opportunity for young lawyers in their communities. Pro bono representation allows for one-on-one client contact and, on occasion, court appearances, both of which young lawyers may not experience in their current practices. How will your young lawyer group celebrate the work of pro bono lawyers in your community during Celebration Week? Here are a few ideas you might consider:
  • conduct a disaster legal services training CLE using pre-packaged ABA YLD materials,
  • sponsor a legal clinic or ask-a-lawyer hotline,
  • coordinate an effort to have young lawyers volunteer to take one pro bono case each, or
  • review the ABA YLD website and newsletters for many examples of easy to replicate pro bono projects that other ABA YLD affiliates across the country have done to serve their communities.
Through your active participation in the National Celebration of Pro Bono you will share in the enthusiasm of that week and the recognition of how important our service work is to the profession at large and to the communities in which we live and practice.