A Pro Bono Magical Musical Mystery Tour

By Bob Glaves | CBF Executive Director

If you have been to the CBA and CBF Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon in recent years, you know that we start with a song to help set a theme for that year’s event. To my knowledge, none were written with our legal profession in mind, but they all have real resonance for those of us in law. The song choice each year is a mystery until it is unveiled the day of the event, and after eight years of this tradition, we have a lot of musical inspiration to work with.

As part of this year’s Pro Bono Month, we want to take a tour of our theme songs so far.

If nothing else, reading this will be a prime opportunity to reconnect with some great music. And my hope is that beyond that, it will remind you of the unique power we possess as lawyers and legal professionals to make a real difference in our community through pro bono service and our larger leadership in helping ensure that our justice system is fair and accessible to all.

Now on to the music!

We Take Care of Own

This tradition started at the annual Luncheon in 2014 when we opened with this Bruce Springsteen number where he calls out the many ways we are falling short of our nation’s ideals and challenges us to live up to them.

While Bruce did not specifically reference our nation’s ideal of equal justice for all, it would have fit right into his theme. We’re a long way from making that ideal a reality, and as lawyers and legal professionals, we have a unique ability to bridge that gap and a responsibility to lead by example to do so.

The Revolution Starts Now

2015 started with this call to action from Steve Earle.

“The Revolution starts now, in your own backyard in your own hometown


Where you work and where you play, where you lay your money down,

In what you do and what you say”

The justice system is our own backyard and this of course is our hometown. These words should inspire us to take ownership of our leadership responsibility to ensure we have a justice system that is fair and accessible for everyone in our community.

People Have the Power

The 2016 Pro Bono Luncheon kicked off with this anthem for the ages by the legendary Patti Smith. As Patti said it so well,

I believe everything we dream 
can come to pass through our union 
we can turn the world around 
we can turn the earth’s revolution

Her song reminds us of the power we have when we come together as a legal community to make our world a fairer and better place, a power that is on display every day in the good work Chicago’s legal community makes possible through the CBF.

American Land

The Boss was back (his music at least) for the 2017 event with a very fitting song for the times. The rollicking beat cannot hide his frustration that our pride in being a nation of immigrants too often is not reflected in the way we actually treat people coming to our proverbial shores. 

We can and must do better than the dysfunctional immigration system we have today and that is an advocacy priority shared by both the CBA and CBF. In the meantime, we in the legal community can help through our pro bono service, and there are some tremendous opportunities to do so here in the Chicago area.

I’ll Stand by You

The incomparable Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders set the tone for the 2018 Luncheon with this poignant ballad:

“When the night falls on you, you don’t know what to do

When you’re standing at the crossroads, and don’t know which path to choose

You’re feeling all alone   

You won’t be on your own

I’ll Stand by You”

Standing up for people who are struggling or facing injustice is one of the most powerful ways lawyers make a difference for people in need, and I could never say it better than Chrissie Hynde did there.

The Story

The 2019 Pro Bono Luncheon kicked off with what is still one of Brandi Carlile’s best (which is saying something!).

For the lawyers people remember through history and look up to today, the story you most often will hear and the only one that people will remember is not how much money they made or how many cases they won or any of those material measures. It is what they did to make a difference in the world, for the people they represented through pro bono or public service or for the work they did to improve our overall system and community.  That is the story we all want to tell, and all of us in the legal community have the power to write our own stories through pro bono and public service and through our participation and support for broader access to justice efforts.

Waitin’ on a Sunny Day

We brought back the Boss for last year’s unavoidably virtual awards event with a song that reflected how we all were feeling in the summer of 2020:

“Hard times, baby they will come to us all, sure as the ticking on a clock on the wall”

Hard times really had come to us all and all at once due to the pandemic. However, it already was apparent that the people already struggling as a result of inequality in our community were being hit particularly hard. As always is true in times of crisis, lawyers and legal professionals had a distinct role to play in helping the people hit especially hard, and as this year’s honorees showed firsthand, our legal community stepped up in a big way to do just that.

I Can See Clearly Now

Our most recent selection was this classic from Johnny Nash, and it is the perfect one to wind up our musical tour.

The experience of this past year has presented us with an amazing opportunity to modernize our profession and justice system to create a fairer and better system for the future. 

Last year proved that our profession and our overall justice system were far more adaptable and innovative than we may have imagined before, and we now all have seen firsthand what an impact technology can make in improving access. What may have seemed like a pipe dream before the pandemic, we now know can be done. 

Both individually and as a collective legal community, our work to make that fairer and better system and to help people in need has never been more important.  And I hope this musical inspiration will put some wind in all of our sails as we move forward to do just that.