Pro Bono — One Judges’ Journey

Hon. Lora J. Livingston

Hon. Lora J. Livingston

I have been a judge for almost twenty years and I love my work.  I do not miss the private practice of law, with one exception.  I do miss advocating on behalf of the low-income clients I represented as pro bono counsel.  As a lawyer in a small law firm, I routinely accepted pro bono cases referred by the local pro bono program.  I was frequently called upon to take challenging family law matters simply because the need was so great.  I even served as a consultant to larger law firms whose partners and associates were not as well versed in the area of family law.  To say that this work was rewarding is a significant understatement.  I became a lawyer because I wanted to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.  Each pro bono case I took reminded me of why I went to law school and each time I closed a pro bono case file I was proud to be a lawyer.

As judge, I continue to use my advocacy skills to advance pro bono in my legal community.  Most notably, I write and speak about the importance of pro bono in our profession. And I encourage (some might say cajole) lawyers to participate in pro bono programs and projects. I always say please and thank you and in between, I let lawyers know that I consider pro bono service a hallmark of professionalism.

My colleagues on the bench also feel strongly that our system of justice is enhanced by the work performed by pro bono lawyers.  The Civil Judges in my area sent out a written “Judicial Call to Action: Take One” which outlined the need and ways in which lawyers could help meet that ever increasing need in our community.  This letter to local lawyers made one simple request, “please take at least one Volunteer Legal Services (VLS) case this year.”  (Note the “please”).

Because it is so important to recognize the pro bono contributions of lawyers, the judges call every lawyer who closes a pro bono file through VLS to personally thank them for providing free legal services to the low-income citizens in our community.  Lawyers who take VLS cases are also recognized at an annual event and the lawyer who has made the most significant contribution each year is awarded a coveted prize named in honor of a judge who championed pro bono both on and off the bench.    (Note the “thank you”).

Judges, like lawyers, have a responsibility to engage in activities that promote justice and the rule of law. Typically, judges may participate in activities that impact the administration of the justice system. The work judges engage in which promotes access to justice helps improve the justice system overall and has the benefit of enhancing the perception of the public concerning our system of justice.  Judicial leadership is vitally important to the success of achieving the goal of access to justice for all.

Participation in pro bono is a matter of professionalism and a matter of pride. I am proud to support pro bono activities locally, statewide and nationally.

Hon. Lora J. Livingston is the judge of the 261st District Court in Travis County, Texas (Austin).  She has served on the ABA Commission on IOLTA, the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID).  She currently serves on the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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2014 Pro Bono Publico Award Recipient: Alan Howard

Each year, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Pro Bono Publico Awards honor individuals or organizations in the legal community that enhance the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor or disadvantaged. 2014 recipients were honored at a luncheon during the ABA Annual Meeting in Boston. This is the third of a five-part series recognizing this year’s award winners.

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Alan Howard is a partner in Crowell & Moring’s New York office. He also does extensive pro bono work. He represented one of the defendants in the nationally prominent “Jena 6″ proceedings in Louisiana, a case of national prominence for its civil rights implications. Howard currently leads an effort on behalf of nearly 200 skilled workers from India who are alleged to be victims of one of the largest human trafficking schemes in the country’s history. He also serves as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Click here to watch and listen as Mr. Howard shares his insights about receiving the award and his years of service.

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Call for Proposals: 2015 EJC Law School Preconference

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Request for Proposals

2015 ABA/NLADA
Equal Justice Conference
Law School Preconference

Presented by
ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service &
The National Legal Aid & Defender Association

May 6, 2015

 Main conference sessions May 7-9, 2015

Hilton Austin | Austin, Texas
www.equaljusticeconference.org

The 2015 EJC Law School Preconference planning team invites you to submit program recommendations for this year’s preconference.
Please refer to the proposal guidelines and complete the proposal
online submission form.

If you have questions, please contact Nura Maznavi at nura.maznavi@americanbar.org

 Proposals are due no later than Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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2014 Pro Bono Publico Award Recipient: Judge Edward Ginsburg

Each year, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Pro Bono Publico Awards honor individuals or organizations in the legal community that enhance the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor or disadvantaged. 2014 recipients were honored at a luncheon during the ABA Annual Meeting in Boston. This is the second of a five-part series recognizing this year’s award winners.

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Edward M. Ginsburg was an associate justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court for nearly 25 years. Upon his retirement from the bench in 2002, Ginsburg founded the pro bono program, Senior Partners for Justice, in cooperation with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association. Senior Partners has grown to more than 1,000 members including lawyers, retired judges and law students. Among the members are many experienced family law practitioners who represent low-income clients and mentor newer attorneys.

Click here to watch and listen as Judge Ginsburg shares his insights about receiving the award and his years of service.

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2014 Pro Bono Publico Award Recipient: Dechert LLP

Each year, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Pro Bono Publico Awards honor individuals or organizations in the legal community that enhance the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor or disadvantaged. 2014 recipients were honored at a luncheon during the ABA Annual Meeting in Boston. This is the first of a five-part series recognizing this year’s award winners.

Dechert

Dechert LLP is an international law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, where 99 percent of its 900 lawyers provide pro bono service, at an average of about 103 annual hours per attorney. Worldwide, Dechert provided more than 82,000 hours of pro bono service in 2013. At any given time, the firm handles upwards of 1,500 individual pro bono matters. Areas in which Dechert lawyers have provided service include: public benefits, voting rights, landlord-tenant, prisoner civil rights, veterans, education, immigration, habeas, nonprofits/small businesses, social impact investment, criminal, civil rights and human rights matters.

Click here to watch and listen as attorneys with Dechert share their insights about receiving the award and their service.

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The Clearinghouse Library for Pro Bono Adds Technology Items

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Bill Jones

The Center for Pro Bono maintains a Clearinghouse library of documents relevant to pro bono management, recruitment, recognition and support.  Over the last year, this Clearinghouse has been migrated to new software run on the American Bar Association (ABA) servers.  Prior to the migration, the collection was reviewed and obsolete items removed.  We have instituted a more simplified tagging scheme as the new software allows full keyword searching of available documents, a feature missing in the earlier software. There are now over 3,200 documents and resources represented—at least a third which are currently available for immediate viewing as PDF files while the rest can be individually requested through a link to an online form. This is only the beginning, as we strive to collect and add new content on a regular basis.

As we add new content, we want to expand our collection of non-ABA web resources. Whereas in the past we preferred having a physical/digital copy of an item we will now increase linking to the web resources of other members of the poverty law community.  As a start the Center has added several resources that focus on technology.

To begin with we wanted to point to important technology organizations that would be most relevant to our work, so naturally we have added the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP), the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), Techsoup.org and out of local pride LTRC — the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center.  We also list the LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant program, particularly projects that have focused on tech for pro bono development.

We’ve added links to free reports and white papers on technology use, for example Getting Started with Data-Driven Decision Making, the 2013 Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems, the Consumers Guide to Content Management Systems for Nonprofits, the Nonprofit Social Media Policy Workbook and The Resilient Organization:  A Guide for Disaster Planning and Recovery.  We link to the papers generated in the recent LSC Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice some of which were published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology and others which are available at JOLT‘s website.  Of course, the Final Report from the LSC Technology Summit is also included.  These resources help programs make better choices in their technology decisions.  In particular the LSC Summit materials give a good overview of the state of delivery technology in the legal services community as well as indicating where the major technology focus will be in the next several years for LSC affiliates.

Some special collections of interest are also included:  NTEN’s and LSNTAP’s YouTube videos, LSNTAP’s Case Management System Reviews and Ratings web area and Social Media Governance’s Social Media Policy Database.

We also include some tools/widgets in the mix:  A2J Author, the Legal Aid Society of Louisville’s Law and Health Screening Tool, a Social Media policy generating tool from Canada, Legal Assistance of Western New York’s WriteClearly gadget and NTEN’s Technology Benchmarking Tool for nonprofits.

To view the technology resources recently added to the Clearinghouse, go to http://www.americanbar.org/directories/pro_bono_clearinghouse.html and select “Technology” from the “Content Topic” expandable menu.  The Center would appreciate any feedback on other web resources that should be added to the Clearinghouse—if you’d like to suggest a technology resource or other item, please send a link to the resource and a brief description to abaprobono@americanbar.org

Bill Jones is the Technology, Information and Content Coordinator for the ABA’s Center for Pro Bono.

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2014 Pro Bono Publico Award Recipients

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The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is please to announce the recipients of the 2014 Pro Bono Publico Awards.

Dechert LLP
International

Judge Edward M. Ginsburg (Retired) 
Senior Partners for Justice Newton, MA

Alan Howard
Crowell & Moring, New York, NY

Kermit F. Lowery
LexisNexis, Miamisburg, OH

Norton Rose Fulbright
Houston, TX

Pro Bono Publico Award Overview

Each year the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service presents five awards to individual lawyers and institutions in the legal profession that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged.

This year the awards are presented at the ABA Annual Meeting on

Saturday, August 9
Noon-1:30p.m.
Ballroom A | Hynes Convention Center

The Honorable Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, will address attendees as the keynote speaker.

To register for the ABA Annual Meeting and to purchase tickets for the Pro Bono Publico Awards Luncheon visit the ABA Annual Meeting registration page.

To sponsor or purchase a table at the Luncheon, please complete this form.

Check back over the coming weeks to learn more about this year’s award recipients

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Try it, you’ll like it:  taking pro bono outside of your comfort zone

 Amy J. Lorenz-Moser

It is easy to forget the obvious:  when we all first started our practicing, we didn’t have any experience.  The first case we litigated or the first deal we closed was . . . well, the first one.  Over the years, we develop a practice area.  We gain experience.  We find a niche.  We build our comfort zone:  the little area of the law we know the very best.  While comfort zones are great for delivering added value for clients, they can sometimes be a barrier to finding meaningful, fulfilling pro bono opportunities.  We are terrified to go back in time and take on a very first case in a new field and learn a new area of the law.  However, doing so (with the right preparation and support) can be an extremely rewarding and satisfying experience.  I encourage you to leave your comfort zone behind, and stretch your skills to provide pro bono representation in an area of greatest need.

If you already practice in a field with a high demand for pro bono services, then you no doubt are already inundated with requests for pro bono assistance.  But let’s say you’re me, and your practice area is defense-side product-liability litigation.  Not surprisingly, I don’t have an endless stream of requests for pro bono litigation help from needy product manufacturers.  Some fields just don’t naturally lend themselves to opportunities to help those of limited means.  Instead you have to look elsewhere.

Competence?:  If your primary practice area is not naturally pro bono friendly, remember that your law license allows you to pick a case in another area.  The biggest fear in doing so is, of course, that you won’t be able to provide competent representation.  It is important to remember what competence requires, and what it does not require.  Model Rule 1.1 requires that lawyers provide competent representation, and the rule applies equally to paying and pro bono clients.  Competency requires “the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  What competency doesn’t require, however, is that you be a 20-year seasoned veteran in a field.  Comment 2 recognizes that “[a] lawyer need not necessarily have special training or prior experience to handle legal problems of a type with which the lawyer is unfamiliar.”  The comments also recognize that some necessary skills transfer across many areas of the law, such as analysis of precedent, legal drafting, and evaluation of evidence.

While more experience might improve your skills in a particular area, in most of these areas the need for pro bono representation far outweighs the availability of pro bono counsel already practicing in that area of law.  If attorneys from other practice areas don’t pitch in, there is simply no way to begin to make a dent in the problem.  For example, a study done in New Hampshire showed that in superior court domestic relations cases, nearly 70% of cases had at least one self-represented party, and for district court domestic violence actions, that number jumped to 97%.[1]  Another study in California found that over 90% of defendants in unlawful detainer cases were self-represented.[2]  Courts throughout the country are facing daunting numbers of litigants appearing without counsel.  Most of your prospective pro bono clients are not choosing between a less experienced lawyer or a more experienced lawyer:  they are choosing between a lawyer willing to take their case or no lawyer at all.  You are not cheating your client out of a better lawyer.  You are offering your client the opportunity to better access their rights through legal representation.

So how can you be competent while gaining experience?  The methods suggested by the Comments to 1.1 probably mirror things you did when you first started practicing law.

Pick your battle:  Your journey will be a little easier if you start out with something that is not very complex, and work your way into more difficult cases as you gain some experience.  The comments recognize the obvious – one of the factors in determining whether you are competent or not is the “relative complexity and specialized nature of the matter.”  So if, for instance, you are interested in helping out with a domestic case, a good place to start might be with an order of protection with no children involved, rather than a nasty contested divorce where custody is at issue.  Keep it simple to start.

Study up:  Comment 2 recognizes that “[a] lawyer can provide adequate representation in a wholly novel field through necessary study.”  Read up on the relevant law in a particular area.  Look for handbooks that are often readily available for things such as landlord-tenant law, domestic violence cases, or veteran benefit appeals.  Depending on the area of law, there may also be training opportunities available.  For instance, many Legal Services programs and other referral sources offer free CLE opportunities and trainings for lawyers who want to take pro bono cases on referral.  These can be particularly valuable learning tools because they are targeted towards areas with an abundance of pro bono opportunities, and are usually set up for beginners.

Buddy up:  Mentoring offers the back-up and experience of a lawyer who is already competent in the field.  Comment 2 recognizes that “competent representation can also be provided through the association of a lawyer of established competence in the field in question.”  If you are at a larger firm, there may already be lawyers at your office that handle pro bono or paying cases in the relevant practice area.  Ask them to partner-up with you on a case.  Many referral sources, such as many Legal Services programs, The Veterans Consortium Pro bono Program, Kids In Need of Defense, and others provide experienced attorney mentors to offer substantive assistance and answer questions.  Another tactic is to research attorneys in your area that practice in that particular area, and just ask if they will mentor you on a case.  I have personally found that most lawyers are flattered and happy to assist in such circumstances, especially if they don’t have to shoulder the majority of the workload themselves.  Sometimes a few phone calls can get you all of the support you need.

Why?:  All of this sounds like a bunch of work.  At this point you may be asking yourself if all of this effort is worth it.  I can only offer my own personal experience.  Over the years, along with my product-liability practice, I have developed a side practice offering pro bono representation to women in prison for killing their abusers in domestic violence situations.  Most of them were unable to admit evidence of abuse at trial.  I have been fortunate enough to see 5 women released from prison as a result of my pro bono practice.  If my palpable fear of practicing outside of my practice area had slowed me down, I doubt that any of these women would have found a lawyer at all.

The benefits my pro bono practice have been many:  the opportunity to learn new areas of the law; expanding my network to new people outside of my regular practice; growing my legal skills and knowledge; giving back to society; awards and recognition, and many others.  But the main reason I do it is because I love it.  The facts are interesting, the cause is just, and the cases are fun.  Not to mention that I have never had a paying civil case that gave me as much personal satisfaction as watching one of my unjustly imprisoned pro bono clients walk free from prison.  Nothing in my life has made me feel more like a lawyer, or a human being.  When I look back at my career, I have no doubt that those cases will be the ones I mark as my greatest achievements.

So give it a try.  Get out there, stretch your skills, find some support, and take on a pro bono case outside of your primary practice area.  You may just find that comfort zone wasn’t so comfortable after all.

Amy J. Lorenz-Moser is a partner at Armstorng Teasdale LLP in St. Louis and received the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award in 2012 for her dedicated work on behalf of abused women. Ms. Lorenz-Moser is a current member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

 

[1] Challenge to Justice-A Report on Self Represented Litigants in New Hampshire Courts—Findings and Recommendations of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Task Force on Self Representation. State of New Hampshire Judicial Branch (January 2005).

[2] California Statewide Action Plan for Self-represented Litigants. California Judicial Council

Task Force on Self Represented Litigants (2004).

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Pro Bono and Private Bar Support – An Era of Progress!

John Rosenberg

John Rosenberg

The last few months of my three year term on the ABA Committee for Pro Bono and Public Service are coming up, so this is a good time for some reflection.

The opportunity to serve on our Committee has been a very rewarding and educational experience for me. In our meetings in different parts of the country, we have met with lawyers, judges, and pro bono coordinators who have described their pro bono activities and their progress with great enthusiasm.  As a former legal service Project Director in rural Appalachia, I have been impressed with their presentations, and how far we have come with the development of pro bono programs throughout the country.  Indeed, the partnership that has developed over the years between legal services programs and the private bar is really quite remarkable, and much of the credit goes to the American Bar Association. It is worth briefly recounting some of that history.

Although there were legal aid societies in some of our larger cities going back to the early 1900’s, the first major expansions came with the funding of legal aid programs by the Office of Economic Opportunity as part of the War on Poverty. However, many of the legal services programs that were established in those early days in the late 60’s and early 70’s found themselves in hostile territory when it came to the relationships with the private Bar.

I was reminded of this history recently by Jim Kruer, the outgoing Chair of the Board of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass (then Northern Kentucky Legal Aid) and the Project Director in the early 1970’s.  Jim was paying tribute to Dick Cullison, who was retiring as Director after thirty-six years of service. In contrasting the cooperative partnership that exists between the program and the bar today, Jim recalled that in those early days, the local bar in Northern Kentucky was unsupportive of his program, saw it as competition for their clients, and unnecessary to the Justice system. My own program went through a very similar scenario, as did many rural programs in the South and other parts of the country.

With the signing of the Legal Services Corporation Act in 1974, we thought our troubles were over. The era of legal services expansion arrived, funding increased from 74 to 321 million dollars annually over the next six years, and new offices opened throughout the country.  Then, the hammer came down. In 1981 President Reagan recommended that there be no further federal funding for legal services, and we faced a prompt demise.

While support for our survival came from various corners, the main party responsible for our survival was the American Bar Association. The ABA recognized that, to obtain Congressional support, legal services programs needed to demonstrate support from the private bar. The mechanism to make this happen was the requirement that a legal services program must devote a portion of its resources to Private Attorney Involvement (thus, the requirement that the recipients of LSC funds allocate an amount equal to twelve and a half percent of their grant funds to PAI). That saved the day, and legal services survived- albeit with an immediate twenty-five percent reduction in funding. The new requirement was not greeted warmly by all legal services Directors and staff, since we also had to grapple with the twenty-five percent funding cut.

Nevertheless, in time the legal services community recognized the benefit of the new requirement. It resulted in the employment of pro bono coordinators, recruiting of attorneys to do pro bono and reduced fee work, and a variety of new pro bono delivery systems. Perhaps even more importantly, it resulted in the true partnerships that developed between legal services programs and the private bar at the local, state, and national levels. By way of example, under Dick Cullison’s guidance, the law firms in his service area, particularly in northern Kentucky raised the funds to purchase and furnish the office building where the program is located in Covington, Kentucky. Furthermore, this year Dick Cullison received distinguished service awards from both the Northern Kentucky Bar and the Fayette County Bar (Lexington), and he will be receiving the 2014 Pro Bono Award from the Kentucky Bar Association at its forthcoming annual conference. Quite a tribute from the private bar to Dick and his program’s work and what a change from those early days!

The American Bar Association has continued its efforts to ensure the funding of legal services programs with an ongoing lobbying effort highlighted annually at ABA Days in Washington, in which I have been privileged to participate as a member of the Kentucky delegation. This year, based on the recommendation of the Legal Services Corporation Pro Bono Task Force, Congress put 2.5 million dollars in the current LSC appropriation bill for program grants that will demonstrate innovative ways to improve and increase the delivery of pro bono services. It will be interesting to see what new pro bono delivery systems will come forward that might be replicated in other parts of the country. For, to be sure, there are many areas, particularly in rural counties, such as those in Appalachia, where access to a legal services office and the lack of pro bono attorneys continues to be a major challenge in providing legal services to the poor.

Still, it has been gratifying and inspiring for me to read about the excellent pro bono work that is being done. For the past two years, I have been a member of our ABA Pro Bono Committee’s Awards Subcommittee. That subcommittee reviews the nominations for the five awards we give at the Annual ABA Conference in August. In reviewing the nominations, I have been so impressed with the variety of outstanding pro bono work done by lawyers throughout the country, and the enormous amount of time they have devoted to all sorts of efforts, domestic violence, immigration, death penalty defense, prisoners’ rights, affordable housing development, children’s rights, and even establishing and staffing clinics in high poverty neighborhoods. We have also seen nominations of Judges for their efforts such as organizing their own pro bono panels, making presentations and writing about the importance of pro bono commitments by attorneys, and by encouraging attorneys who practice in their courts to do pro bono work. We received excellent nominations from law schools and from corporations for special pro bono programs that they have organized. Hopefully, by recognizing and publicizing these outstanding pro bono efforts, we will see this wonderful work continue to grow.

John Rosenberg is Director Emeritus of Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Ky, Inc. (“Appalred”), in Prestonsburg, KY. He is of counsel to the firm of Pillersdorf, DeRossett, and Lane and a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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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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