When Families Fight – Mandatory Reporting of Pro Bono Hours in New York

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Lillian Moy

The Access to Justice community in New York is deeply divided over the issue of mandatory reporting of pro bono hours and financial contributions. As part of New York’s Unified Court System’s commitment to enhancing access to justice, our Rules of Professional Conduct now require mandatory reporting of hours of pro bono legal services to the poor and financial contributions to programs providing legal services to the poor. Members of the Bar who have long worked together to promote access to justice find themselves in deep disagreement over the new Rule. Why this family dispute?

Many attorneys chafe at what they consider to be the “authoritarian” way in which the Rule was issued. Others say that it is a privilege to practice law and that privileges are often regulated, this one by the Courts. Members of my extended family agree that only 20% of the legal needs of the poor are met by legal services providers. For some, the justice gap – the gap between the need for justice and the resources available to do justice — supports an appreciation that mandatory reporting of pro bono hours and financial contributions may well foster an increase in resources for closing the justice gap and meeting the legal needs of the poor. If so, perhaps mandatory reporting serves a legitimate purpose? Others believe that even if it is true that resources to close the justice gap will increase due to mandatory reporting, the ends do not justify the means. Many fear that mandatory reporting of pro bono is just the first step to mandatory pro bono itself.

Of all the issues that divide my family deepest, it is the question of disclosure. Privacy with respect to charitable donations is important to me too. My big city friends tell me that it was the prospect of disclosure that prompted some of their colleagues to look around for a pro bono opportunity or a charitable organization to receive their financial donation. Is this not exactly the result access to justice advocates want – a flowering of pro bono service and financial support? A narrowing of the justice gap?

Spirited debate in New York’s family of attorneys has prompted a study of voluntary and mandatory reporting of pro bono hours and financial contributions from around the country. The study may delineate a broad menu of successful practices from around the country that could offer respite to our family. Maybe on-line, anonymous mandatory reporting? Data collection by our voluntary bar association, rather than the Court? An agreement to disclose only aggregate data? Perhaps aggregating data on a geographic basis so that local pro bono and legal services providers can plan programming to close the gap? And the report may illustrate that mandatory reporting of pro bono hours serves to quash any further discussion of mandatory pro bono.

Many on either side of the divide argue that the bar should not be in such disagreement with the Court. At a moment like this a biological family might turn to a gifted mediator or trusted advisor. I hope that New York’s Access to Justice leaders will come back from the precipice to creatively consider how we can more forward together to close the gap between the need for legal services for the poor and the resources available.

Lillian M. Moy is Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and a member of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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Community Profile: Julia Wilson, Executive Director of OneJustice

The Equal Justice Conference is just a month away! Today, meet one of this year’s conference co-chairs, Julia Wilson, Executive Director of OneJustice. Julia was recently interviewed by Steve Grumm for the ABA’s Access to Justice Blog, cross-posted below.

Julia Wilson

Julia Wilson

Julia R. Wilson is responsible for leading OneJustice’s statewide network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses that together provide life-changing legal assistance to over 270,000 low-income Californians each year. In addition to her executive responsibilities at OneJustice, Julia enjoys traveling around California providing training and consulting support to the executives and boards of the legal nonprofit organizations in OneJustice’s network. Her programmatic areas of expertise include designing innovative pro bono delivery systems and building effective and engaging board governance, including training board members how to be joyful “sparkplug” friend- and fund-raisers for their organizations. In 2012, she was named by the Daily Journal as one of California’s Top 100 Attorneys in recognition of her work at OneJustice.

Steve: OneJustice was founded by law students, and still does much to engage students in pro bono and public interest work today.  Some public-interest law offices struggle with how to maximize their use of law students to both a) get work product and b) provide a learning experience.  Please offer three strategies you’ve learned for maximizing the impact of law-student contributions while also maximizing their experience.

Julia:  Ah yes, we frequently hear from legal services nonprofits about the joys and frustrations of working with law students.  We believe that law students are an extremely important, and sometimes undervalued, resource for the legal services community to expand services for clients.  However, we also believe that nonprofits can underestimate the planning, supervision, and ongoing management required to effectively leverage law student time and energy.

In terms of advice for maximizing law student contributions, we would offer this.  First, nonprofits should spend a bit of time planning and articulating the goals and objectives for involving law students in the work.  There are many situations in which law student involvement can be highly leveraged, such as helping to staff clinics to do intake and screening, advice and counsel, or even sometimes brief services (under the supervision of an attorney, of course).  Law students can also assist individual attorneys with their caseloads over longer periods of time through research and other assistance.  These opportunities all work best when the nonprofits spend just a bit of time upfront articulating exactly why they are involving law students, the role that law students will fill, and what success will look like (i.e., using students will increase the total number of clients served, or will allow more time to be spent with each client at the clinic, or will increase the number of clinics per month, etc.).

Second, we should ensure basic human resources practices, even for law student volunteers. As evidenced by the feedback in a series of retention and recruitment studies in various states, our sector struggles a bit with the effective management of our human capital.  Sometimes our management of volunteer resources is even less structured.  The need to manage talent effectively applies equally to law students; often you get out of the person what you are willing to invest.  We recommend that nonprofits do things like draft a formal job description for the law student role – whether short-term at a clinic or longer-term like an externship.  Share it with the student(s) and check for understanding. Invest in a bit of professional development, including an on-boarding or orientation program.  This can be as short at 30 minutes before a one-time clinic, or a full professional development plan for semester-long interns. Employ best practices in delegation, including stating criteria for satisfaction, checking for understanding, and setting up a clear process for check-ins and feedback.  As our sector improves our management of paid employees, we should transfer those same skills into managing all volunteers – including law students.

And our third piece of advice is that nonprofits should think about how they can partner with other organizations to share the time needed to implement our first two recommendations.  One of the benefits OneJustice offers to the nonprofits we support is that they can outsource to us much of the preparatory work in engaging law students.  We can help identify the ideal law student role in clinics or other service settings, including strategizing about which roles can maximize the strengths law students bring to the work.  We can conduct trainings and orientations for large groups of students at once, enabling them to hit the ground running and reducing the training required by individual legal services providers.  They could consider collaborating to take on different aspects of the planning, preparation, training, and management of law student volunteers – sharing the burdens in order to jointly maximize the benefits.

Read more of Steve’s interview with Julia, here.

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Pro Bono via Limited Engagement

William Woodward

William Woodward

Lawyers are delivering a great deal of pro bono work through “limited engagements,” that is, through narrow, targeted efforts. These come in several flavors: among them local programs established through a local provider and targeted at a particular kind of recurring legal problem or more general “clinics” where a given population (for example, veterans or homeless individuals) receive more wide-ranging advice or referrals.

Both types of pro bono work make very limited demands on the lawyers supplying it and may well involve many more of them as a result.

Verizon and Hewlett-Packard are two corporations that have run pro bono clinics. For example, Hewlett-Packard has run “ID Clinics” designed to get homeless individuals California-approved identification cards from the Department of Motor Vehicles. These cards are a critical gateway to many social services available to this population. After appropriate outreach to the targeted population, its lawyers and non-lawyers will staff an area and its individuals will help the clients with the necessary forms and their submission to obtain the cards. In the process, this group of pro bono volunteers might also provide these clients with brief legal advice for simple problems or will assist them in scheduling appointments with an agency that can help or a legal provider that can offer more complex legal services.

Verizon, in collaboration with DLA Piper and Rutgers Law School established a series of “veterans clinics” at the VA’s Basking Ridge, N.J. facility. Here, they helped veterans with many issues including family law, landlord tenant, criminal expungement, and driver’s license restorations. Some of the problems could be handled on the spot, with a letter to an official or a family member; more complicated problems were referred to one of many legal services organizations in the state.

Efforts that are more narrowly focused on a particular legal problem within a geographic area make similarly-limited demands on lawyers. For example, Atlanta and Los Angeles both have programs to assist individuals in bankruptcy with the decision whether to “reaffirm” a given debt that otherwise would be discharged in bankruptcy. Reaffirmation is a difficult issue in bankruptcy inasmuch as a “reaffirmed” commitment to pay a pre-bankruptcy debt burdens the “fresh start” for which debtors seek bankruptcy protection in the first place. In these pro bono programs, the persons confronting a reaffirmation decision are gathered in one place with groups of pro bono lawyers who will counsel them about the decisions they are faced with. Better decisions, and more effective consumer bankruptcies, are the result.

Philadelphia has a “Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program” that has a very similar structure. Philadelphians who are facing legal foreclosure are “diverted” to offices of the Philadelphia Housing Authority where their obligations and ability to perform them are worked up. Then the homeowners and the lenders who have initiated foreclosure, are gathered into a courtroom. The homeowners are given a pro bono lawyer who will review the information with the housing counselor and then the lawyer and homeowner together will open a negotiation with the lender. If that negotiation does not produce a settlement, the group is sent to a mediator (typically a senior pro bono lawyer) who will attempt to move the parties towards settlement. This program has saved thousands of Philadelphia homes from foreclosure.

Once again, limited lawyer engagement makes the program work and attracts hundreds of pro bono lawyers into the program, many of whom might not have offered their help without the availability of a limited engagement.

Despite the briefness of the pro bono commitment, the work can be immensely satisfying. This can draw more lawyers to pro bono work and can draw participating lawyers into less limited engagements. As a simple example, one of my early clients was committed to an “underwater” mortgage that made no economic sense for their family. Even if their monthly payments could have been reduced, so long as the house remained underwater, they could neither sell their house nor refinance their mortgage – they were stuck. The lender would not budge on a balance reduction that would match the size of the mortgage to the value of the house, so I advised the clients simply to “move on” and let the house go, rather than to accept the lower monthly payment the lender offered without a balance reduction. This they did, and relocated to a suburb outside the city. This turned out to be a life-changing and very positive move for them and their gratitude came to me in recurring reports about their wonderful new life over the course of the following year. This kind of gratitude does not come often from most regular clients.

Programs like these are everywhere and there is always room for more volunteers. Participation will offer you training in something different, will yield you one-on-one client contact (an increasing rarity in practice), and will let you see your legal training actually improve the life of a fellow human being. Being a lawyer doesn’t get much better than that.

William J. Woodward, Jr. is a Senior Fellow at Santa Clara University School of Law, a
Professor Emeritus at Temple University, and a member of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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Community profile: Pamela Robinson, University of South Carolina School of Law

The Equal Justice Conference is right around the corner. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be profiling some of the pro bono leaders who will be joining us in Portland.

Today, meet Pamela Robinson who has served as the Director of the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program for 24 years.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I have a background in elementary education and worked for many years as a children’s librarian. I went back to law school later in life and had no idea what I was getting into. There were no attorneys in my family. But volunteering was in my blood, a part of my family tradition. I always had it in the back of my mind that I could use the law to help people.

The University of South Carolina’s Pro Bono program was the first of its kind in the state and the country. Tell us how the program got started.

During my years as a student at USC, I worked with the dean at the time to help create a legal history collection. I spent my summers researching historical documents and traveling around the state collecting documents and interviewing people about the constitutional history of South Carolina. I stayed on at the campus after graduation to work on a few other special projects. Over a cup of coffee with the dean, he said to me, we should do something in the pro bono world – see what you can develop. And that’s how things started – no vote, no faculty discussion – just a conversation over coffee.

That was in 1988. There weren’t a lot of resources but as we were the only law school in the state at the time, we felt as though we had a duty to address the issues and help the less fortunate in the state. We started with a generous grant from the South Carolina Bar Foundation. Our first official class was in 1989. The focus of the program was always about what would be good for the students and what would be good for the profession – a focus on experiential learning. I find it ironic that we’re still having that conversation so many years later – pro bono may not be sexy words, but that’s what it is: experiential learning. We were the first formal voluntary pro bono program in the country.

What has been your biggest challenge?

It’s always a challenge for me to stay energized. I have to remind myself that although I have been doing this for 24 years, this is all still new to the students. After a while, you tend to start assuming that everyone knows what you do, but they don’t. It’s necessary to understand each class of students and recognize that each group may have different reasons or motivations for volunteering.

One of the earliest and smartest things I did was to purchase the “Bill of Rights” poster series from the ABA and frame and hang them in my office. They are powerful messages and capture the essence of public interest and our dedication to working on issues of poverty, civil rights and human rights.

Based on your experience and your work with students and young attorneys, what advice do you have for pro bono programs to help recruit and maintain the involvement of young attorneys?

The importance of finding the right fit and making sure pro bono is personal. Sometimes that takes me rewriting a pro bono opportunity in a certain way. Or it might be necessary for me to have a conversation with a student about what they are looking for. But it’s about having students buy in to pro bono so that when they become attorneys they will keep up the work.

The power, ingenuity, creativity and enthusiasm that students can have for doing good is motivating beyond anything anyone can imagine. The future of the profession is in good hands.

Pamela will be presenting at the Equal Justice Conference law school preconference on the plenary session, “Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, and Hope for Tomorrow: Law Student Pro Bono Through the Years.” Register today! www.equaljusticeconference.org

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Pro Bono From the Heart


February is always a bittersweet month for me. In addition to hearts and candy, it also brings the anniversary of my father’s death and memories of being surrounded by funeral bouquets rather than red roses on that sad Valentine’s Day many years ago. Reflecting back on that time has reminded me that I chose my very first pro bono case in my dad’s honor. That first case taught me some lessons that helped shape my career. While we often evaluate pro bono “by the numbers,” this seemed like a good month to talk about pro bono that comes from the heart.

In the fall of 1990, as a brand new first year associate, I received an invitation to join a pro bono program being set up to provide representation to veterans in the newly created U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals (now known as the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims). Congress had just established this Article I Court to give veterans an independent forum outside of the Department of Veterans Appeals to adjudicate appeals from agency benefit denials. Until then, there had been no recourse for them beyond the administrative agency process.

Although I was completely unfamiliar with the veteran’s claims process, this opportunity seemed tailor-made for me in several ways. I had chosen my law firm in part because of its strong pro bono reputation and was already on the lookout for the right way to get involved. My father, a World War II combat veteran, had always taken great pride in his military service. I heard him say many times that he would never be a burden to anyone when he got old, and that the V.A. would provide him with all the care he needed when that time came. Unfortunately, he died suddenly and unexpectedly without ever calling upon his V.A. benefits. But my own experience with the Department in getting only his burial plot allowance and a simple headstone was so frustrating that I felt empathy for anyone trying to navigate the claims process who was elderly and ill! This seemed like the perfect chance to serve some other veteran who had expectations like my father’s about his benefits but was having trouble getting them on his own. On top of that, the letter had arrived on my birthday so it all seemed very personal.

I found a litigation partner at the firm who was himself a veteran to supervise me, signed up for the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium program and eventually received my first case. I expected that most of the claimants would be Vietnam veterans, but I was amazed to learn that my first client was a World War II veteran from Texas. Mr. B had had sustained a back injury during his Army service, but had worked with pain as long as he could after his discharge. By the time I received his case, he had been seeking disability benefits for many years without legal representation. I was very excited about introducing myself to him and explaining my personal motivation for taking on his case. He, his wife and I made a strong personal connection right from the start.

I prepared Mr. B’s appeal and successfully negotiated a remand on several different grounds. We kept the case on remand, prepared and filed some additional factual declarations as well as a brief in support of the claim. Mr. B called after reading the brief to say that he didn’t care any more about whether he won or not! At first I didn’t understand. He explained that he could tell from the brief that I understood the claim he’d been making all along and that, most importantly, I believed him. Until he read my brief, he’d wanted to give up many times because the mental stress of repeated delays and denials was exhausting him. He felt that everyone he’d encountered in connection with processing his claim had treated him like a liar or faker.

We eventually won a big lump sum payment representing many years of back benefits plus a monthly payment going forward. He bought the new Cadillac he’d wanted all his life and was thrilled to be able to pay cash for it. The award came just in time for Mr. and Mrs. B to throw a 50th wedding anniversary party that they otherwise would not have been able to afford. They sent me a ticket to fly to Texas for the occasion. I stayed at their home and was introduced to their family and friends as “the one who made it all possible.” I had a wonderful time at the party, but it was the earlier comment about believing in him that meant the most to me. I could only imagine how my dad would have reacted if he had waited as long as possible to file a disability claim and was then told he hadn’t come forward with enough credible evidence!

I stayed in touch with Mr. and Mrs. B over the years, more frequently at first and later mostly through holiday cards. In recent years, those stopped and I hoped it was just because sending cards had just become too much for this elderly couple to keep up with. As I prepared to go to Austin for the Standing Committee’s meeting last month, I tried to call Mr. B to ask about coming to visit while I was nearby. That’s when I learned that he had passed away during the last year and had lost his wife a couple of years earlier.

In thinking again about this case and the way it came to me, a few points seem clear:

      • Finding a cause or an issue that appeals to you on a personal human level can be a great way to get started in pro bono or to renew your motivation.
      • You don’t have to be experienced in the subject matter at the outset. Good case screening, training and mentoring can provide the substantive knowledge to combine with your energy, commitment and hard work.
      • Winning is great, but it isn’t everything. You can provide real service short of winning. Compassion and validation go a long way.
      • Sometimes a case is just a case, but some cases transcend the attorney/client relationship and lead to true, long lasting friendships.

We often think of pro bono service as something we give, but we often receive professional and personal benefits along the way. Pro bono service cannot be measured or evaluated on the basis of hours alone. And if your heart is in it, you won’t be counting anyway.

Karen T. Grisez is an attorney with Fried Frank’s Washington, DC office. She joined the firm in 1990 and became Public Service Counsel in 1996. Ms. Grisez serves as a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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The Scoop on New York’s “Pro Bono Scholar Program”

Our colleague, Steve Grumm, posts a thoughtful analysis of New York Chief Judge Lippman’s recent announcement creating the “Pro Bono Scholars Program.”  

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United Airline’s Legal Department Pro Bono

Check out this great description of United Airlines’ pro bono involvement from our friends at PILI: http://pili.org/pro-bono/united-airlines

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The Equal Justice Conference in Portland – Register Now!


Registration for this year’s Equal Justice Conference in Portland, May 1-3, is now open!

The Equal Justice Conference brings together all components of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor and low-income individuals in need of legal assistance.

The emphasis of this Conference is on strengthening partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. Through plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and special programming, the Conference provides a wide range of learning and sharing experiences for all attendees.

Highlights from this conference include:

        • Nine pre-conferences 
        • 70+ substantive workshops
        • A fun & unique networking lunch with colleagues from across the country
        • Portland host committee party
        • Luncheon and awards presentation

Register now to lock in your early bird rate. See you in Portland!

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Volunteering and avoiding burnout in the New Year


As we begin 2014, some helpful advice from The Idealist for those involved in pro bono work or public service:

5 things you can do each day to prevent burnout
by Cynthia Jaggi

Instead of feeling refreshed from your holiday break, are you dreading being back at work?

Are you finding yourself less interested than you used to be – even in areas you are passionate about – and wondering what’s going on? Generally are you feeling more pessimistic?

You might be teetering on the edge of burnout, or even over the edge.

What is burnout?

Often in the nonprofit sector you are working on solving complex problems with very limited resources. In that context, it’s natural to have highs and lows. There are times when you are excited to see the impact you’ve made. Other times, you might feel frustrated with the lack of funding or the limits of your work.

Burnout is when you are consistently feeling negative and exhausted. Coupled with declining interest in activities you used to care about, you can soon find your job performance, and your relationships, suffering.

Maybe you find that you are tuning out of meetings. Or sitting in front of your keyboard distracted rather than researching or writing. “Where has my motivation gone?” you wonder. We all suffer from occasional difficulties staying excited about our jobs, especially when we’re dealing with a challenging piece of work. If you find yourself feeling more pessimistic, less motivated, and all around tired, you might be looking at burnout.

OK, I get it – that could be me. What’s the good news?

There are simple things you can do now to help prevent burnout, or start to reverse the trend if you are already experiencing it. Also, you’ll perform better once you re-blend your days to have more restorative and generative time.

Read more for the five things you can do starting right now to feel and perform better.

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Pro Bono Holiday Gift Guide

Still searching for that perfect holiday gift? Look no further. Check out these children’s books published by ABA Publishing – Helping a Hero and Breath of Hope. These beautifully illustrated books were recently named among the best in family-friendly media, products and services by the Mom’s Choice Awards. More books in the series are under development. Single or bulk copies can be purchased at the ABA Webstore.

helping a hero

In Helping a Hero, a young girl’s uncle returns home from military service overseas a changed man—depressed, moody, unable to sleep, and unable to hold a job. The girl and a friend visit a lawyer who acts as a medical-legal partner, providing legal help to underserved communities in a hospital setting, who in turn connects the girl’s uncle with Thresholds, an organization specializing in helping returning veterans.

a breath of hope

A Breath of Hope depicts how medical-legal partnerships and legal aid can transform the lives of families in need. The text focuses on the plight of a small girl suffering with asthma because of a landlord’s neglect of an apartment contaminated with mold. Torn between being evicted and the heath of their daughter, the family is connected to a legal representative by the doctor who cares for the child.

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