Pro Bono Myths and Realities: Bar Associations, Foundations, Access to Justice Commissions, and Other Systemic Players

Part 6 of a 7-part series

As we reach the end of this year’s Pro Bono Week, it is time to look in the mirror at ourselves and our colleagues in the bar/funder/access to justice commission world as the last key pro bono stakeholder to discuss this week. While each of the other key players discussed earlier in this week’s series lawyers, firms and law departments; legal aid organizations; government; and the courts have distinct roles to play in the pro bono landscape, none of them operate in a vacuum. Bar associations, funders, commissions and other systemic players are well-positioned make all of the other key stakeholders more efficient and effective when we do our jobs well.

In carrying out our systemic responsibilities, there are several key things those of us with this vantage point can do to make pro bono the best it can be.

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Pro Bono Myths and Realities: The Role of the Courts

Part 5 of a 7-part series

Court-based pro bono programs that address the needs of unpresented litigants can be an effective part of the larger strategy to ensure that the justice system is fair, accessible and efficient for all. There are a variety of successful court-based program models, including help desks that provide brief advice and services; lawyer for the day or other limited service appointments such as representation in mediation or settlement hearings; and panels of lawyers who provide extended representation to litigants in particular types of civil and criminal cases.

While pro bono volunteers can and do provide important assistance in ensuring access to the courts, they are not a substitute for robust and properly funded legal aid and public service entities or for a user-friendly and accessible court system. When designed and implemented well, however, these programs can provide an important supplement to these efforts in a way that is a win-win for all stakeholders.

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Pro Bono Myths and Realities: The Role of Government

Part 4 of a 7-part series

As important as pro bono is to the larger efforts to ensure equal access to justice, the idea that it somehow could be a replacement for adequate funding for legal aid and other critical public service legal functions is terribly misguided. While pro bono indeed does play an integral role in the larger access to justice landscape, it is just one part of the larger solution.

Equal access to justice is one of our foremost principles as a nation, reflected in the fact that our founding fathers chose to establish justice at the start of the Constitution, and in the Pledge of Allegiance’s familiar refrain of liberty and justice for all. The promise of justice for all is an empty one without access to necessary legal assistance, and the laws our governments pass are meaningless if they are not applied equally. Access to quality legal assistance is absolutely essential to ensure that everyone receives the equal protections of our nation’s laws.

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Pro Bono Myths and Realities: Legal Aid Organizations

Part 3 of a 7-part series

As noted in my prior post in this week’s special Pro Bono Week series, legal aid organizations play a critical partnership role in pro bono by providing the necessary infrastructure to support pro bono work for lawyers, firms and companies. There are a multitude of benefits for the legal aid organization and its clients when the organization has a top down commitment to pro bono and makes the proper investments in pro bono.

When a legal aid organization runs a good pro bono program, the direct services that volunteers provide are just one part of the benefit. That impact can multiply in many other ways and the potential benefits are almost limitless. But when a pro bono program is mediocre or worse, the opposite can occur. It not only might sour the attorneys and their firms on the organization, it could dampen their view of pro bono and legal aid in general.

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Pro Bono Myths and Realities: Lawyers, Law Firms and Corporate Legal Departments

Part 2 of a 7-part series

Any discussion about pro bono should start with lawyers, law firms and corporate legal departments because of the special responsibility our profession holds towards this cause as trustees of the justice system. Fulfilling our special responsibility requires contributions of time and money as well as a strategic use of the influence lawyers, firms and companies have in our community. Pro bono clearly is an integral part of that no matter how much we may be doing on other charitable and community service fronts. It also is just one part of a larger, integrated solution to ensuring equal access to justice.

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Pro Bono: Myths, Realities, and Its Proper Role in Access to Justice

Part 1 of a 7-part series

If you talk to enough people about pro bono, it won’t take long before you will hear nonsense like pro bono is the solution to chronic underfunding of legal aid, or equally silly statements like pro bono is nothing more than an overhyped waste of time and energy. And a whole lot of other untruths in between those two extremes.

The truth is pro bono indeed does play an integral role in the larger access to justice landscape, not to mention in our legal profession and in the justice system. But that role too often is overstated, understated or simply misstated and misunderstood, to the detriment of all of us who care about pro bono and equal access to justice.

As we kick off this year’s Pro Bono Week, over the next few days I will be blogging about pro bono as it relates to the key stakeholders in the access to justice cause, closing the loop at the end with some suggestions for all of these stakeholders going forward.

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