Celebrate Pro Bono • October 25–31, 2009
By Sharon Browning
Sharon Browning is a consultant with the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service to support and facilitate the National Celebration of Pro Bono Week.
In the past year, pro bono lawyers in Philadelphia have assisted over 5,000 low-income homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. In San Francisco, individuals and families who are homeless or at serious risk of becoming homeless find a safe haven in the assistance of pro bono counsel. Low-income Boston micro-entrepreneurs are provided the legal advice and support needed to start sound businesses that not only will benefit them but also the poor neighborhoods they serve. Montana’s pro bono lawyers use video conferencing to deliver legal information and advice to rural clients. Law schools now prepare students to assume their roles as gatekeepers of justice by exposing them to the raw legal needs of the most vulnerable citizens and supervising them as they put their own developing skills and energies into meeting some of that need. All over the country, and increasingly the world, lawyers are broadening their practices to include the vital work of representing low-income clients.
This growing participation of pro bono attorneys has become both an integral and indispensable part of the delivery of legal services to poor people. Ongoing efforts to expand critical representation to the growing numbers of people living on the social margins depend heavily on the involvement of volunteer lawyers. In recognition of this reality, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is coordinating the first annual National Celebration of Pro Bono Week, October 25–31, 2009. The Celebration is designed both to highlight the important work that lawyers do to provide equal access to justice and to invite greater participation in pro bono work from the legal community.
The National Celebration of Pro Bono has been met with generous and enthusiastic responses. To date over 180 legal organizations across the country are planning events in more than 100 cities and towns. A wide array of activities is developing, ranging from traditional awards ceremonies and pro bono fairs to events with a creative flair, such as the red carpet premiere of a new training video to be held at a restored historic theater and a battle of attorney bands whose winner will play at a Celebration week event. Clients in some areas will benefit immediately from the many clinics being held during the week, and innovative collaborative pro bono strategy and planning gatherings will be held in several locations.
Nationally, plans are to have a live blog available for postings from venues throughout the nation during the week. There will also be a call for videos of this year’s events to be made in anticipation of organizing efforts for next year’s celebration.
The National Celebration of Pro Bono website, www.celebrateprobono.org, is the primary resource for information, publicity materials, and news about the celebration. There is still plenty of time to plan an event: for a menu of both best practice and inspirational ideas, visit the Event Ideas section of the website at www.probono.net/celebrateprobono/events.
More than at any other time in the history of the country, there are both the resources and the technology needed to connect low-income people with critical needs to lawyers with the skills to address them. The National Celebration of Pro Bono promises to build on efforts already made and has the potential to be the tipping point for widespread, systemic pro bono participation.