The Profound Joy of Pro Bono

Pro bono lawyers are my heroes. It always warms my heart to listen to them talk about why they derive joy from doing pro bono work. These are my favorite reasons.

Read the full column here.



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Remembering a Pro Bono Hero: Esther Lardent

Esther Lardent

On behalf of the ABA’s Standing Committee for Pro Bono and Public Service, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Esther Lardent, founder of the Pro Bono Institute, who passed away this week.

Esther was a pro bono hero, which is not a term you hear every day. Esther was legendary in Boston legal circles because of her work in founding and serving as the first director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, one of the first organized pro bono programs in the country which remains the premier pro bono force in Greater Boston. It was a great pleasure to get to know her because in addition to her leadership and dedication to inspiring the bar to make pro bono a major resource in meeting the legal needs of the poor, Esther was friendly, approachable and had a “wicked” sense of humor, to use a Boston term.

Many have already spoken of her extraordinary contributions to building a vibrant and productive pro bono culture in America’s law firms in and in-house legal departments, but Esther was also very involved in the ABA for many years. She served not only as an independent legal and policy consultant for the ABA but also as chair or member of numerous ABA committees and task forces, as well as on the Board of Governors and in the House of Delegates. Among her ABA accomplishments, she was the chief consultant for the ABA’s Death Penalty Representation Project at its inception and played a formative role in the creation of the ABA’s Commission on Immigration.

I sometimes considered Esther to be the conscience or watchdog of the ABA House of Delegates – when Esther rose to speak and told us we need to consider how a resolution impacted access to justice, or what should be added to ensure that a resolution served that important goal, everyone listened. There is no question her legacy will continue among those who knew her, but I have already discovered, in the few short days since her death, that those who never knew Esther but have listened to the heartfelt reminiscences about her life, are equally impressed and inspired.

Esther will be sorely missed but her work will live on among those dedicated, as was she, to ensuring that equal access to justice means justice for all.

Mary K. Ryan is a partner at the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP and Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.

For more on Esther’s legacy, read the statement of The Association of Pro Bono Counsel

We welcome you to leave your remembrances of Esther in the comments section.

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Pro Bono Innovation Grants from the Legal Services Corporation

LSC 2016 PBI Conference – Innovations in Legal Services from Legal Services Corporation on Vimeo.

In this video, Pro Bono Innovation Grants from the Legal Services Corporation are discussed in depth. The panel, Innovations in Legal Services,  took place at the Pro Bono Institute’s annual conference on March 24, 2016. LSC President Jim Sandman was the moderator and panelists were recipients of LSC Pro Bono Innovation Grants. Panelists include Laurie Hauber, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri; Adam Heintz, Legal Services NYC; and Emily Jarrell, Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association

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Paralegals in Paradise: NFPA Celebrates Pro Bono at Annual Conference

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) Annual Convention & Policy Meeting was hosted by the Hawaii Paralegal Association (HPA) from October 8, 2015 through October 11, 2015 at Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu.  This year’s annual convention and policy meeting “Paralegals in Paradise” was attended by delegates of Regions I, II, III, IV and V.

The NFPA Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility Guidelines provide that each paralegal should aspire to contribute 24 hours of community service, in addition to 24 hours to pro bono service annually.  During the year, paralegals voluntarily report hours via the NFPA Pro Bono/Community Service Hours Reporting Forms to record and report the number of hours contributed to local groups, pro bono agencies, events, associations and organizations.  Local associations may then report these hours to the state and local bar associations, highlighting the valuable contributions paralegals make to the delivery of pro bono legal services and to making access to justice a reality.

On Saturday, October 10, 2015, NFPA honored 66 paralegals from local associations throughout the United States for meeting and/or exceeding the recommended aspirations for completion of pro bono/community service hours.  These paralegals received certificates along with a commemorative pro bono pin.

Following the presentation of certificates and pins, NFPA also announced the 2015 pro bono award winners:

Individual Pro Bono Award:

Linda Teater, Rocky Mountain Paralegal  Association


Association Pro Bono Award:

Dallas Area Paralegal Association


Christine M. Flynn is a paralegal with the law firm Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and serves as Coordinator of Pro Bono for The National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

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The Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Year-in-Review

Mary Ryan, Chair, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service

Mary Ryan, Chair, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service

When I began my term as chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service in 2013 I knew that the Committee had a busy slate of activities.  I had completed a full three year term on the Committee, was honored to be appointed to serve as Chair and was ready to lead the ABA’s pro bono initiatives to the next level.  The scope of the Committee’s efforts has turned out to be even more impressive and impactful than I ever imagined it would be, in both scope and depth.  As 2015 draws to a close, here is a review of the Committee’s work over the past twelve months:

ABA Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants

  • Co-sponsor with the ABA Commission on Immigration
  • Developed and implemented training for potential pro bono volunteers in collaboration with various ABA entities
  • Created website ( to support pro bono lawyers
  • Proposed a House of Delegates resolution which was adopted addressing key issues in assisting unaccompanied minor immigrants
  • Developed an exciting online portal for volunteer attorneys to obtain support from organizations, mentors and each other.

ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference

  • With the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, convened the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference in Austin, TX on May 6-9
  • Over 835 individuals attended; they participated in more than 85 workshops and networking sessions
  • Keynote speakers included ABA President William Hubbard; Lisa Foster, the director of the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative; and, Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. Multiple ABA entities and outside organizations supported and presented conference program sessions.

  • In May 2015 the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service voted to use the Online Tennessee Justice system as a framework for building, maintaining and staffing a national pro bono website
  • The ABA Board of Governors authorized moving forward with the project at its November 2015 meeting
  • Over 30 states have committed to participating in the national site.

2015 ABA Pro Bono Publico Awards

  • Hosted a signature Saturday luncheon event during the ABA Annual Meeting.
  • Presented awards to :
    • Baylor University School of Law / Waco, TX
    • Daniel L. Brown / Sheppard Mullin / New York, NY
    • Jones Day / International
    • Leslie S. Silverstein / Portland, ME
    • United Airlines Legal Department / Chicago, IL
  • Provided national recognition of our long term partners   the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals (NABPRO) and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCO)
  • Produced and disseminated videos featuring each of the 2015 Award recipients

National Celebration of Pro Bono

  • Planned and implemented the seventh National Celebration of Pro Bono
  • Generated over 900 events coordinated by more than 550 organizations across the country
  • Provided resources, ideas, models and more that were replicated locally
  • Implemented ABA President Paulette Brown’s signature event, And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service which mobilized thousands of lawyers to increase legal services to poor and vulnerable people
  • Generated extensive coverage in local and national legal and mainstream press conveying very positive messages about the ABA and America’s lawyers.

Center for Pro Bono

  • The ABA Center for Pro Bono, a project of the Committee, provided technical assistance on promoting and developing pro bono to projects of all types across the country
  • The Center provided technical support on various aspects of pro bono development to multiple ABA entities
  • Center staff oversaw the ABA’s in-house pro bono project providing ABA staff lawyers the opportunity to fulfill their professional responsibility by identifying, communicating and coordinating pro bono activities.

Legal Services Corporation Collaboration

  • Committee members and staff have participated as members of working groups and presentations relating to LSC’s pro bono activities
  • The Committee met with the LSC Board at its January 2015 meeting to explore additional strategies for working together on pro bono development

Other Activities

  • The Committee has incorporated pro bono into the planning of Access to Justice Commissions with particular emphasis on judicial leadership and the adoption of pro bono policies and rules
  • Tested the utilization of the Committee’s national pro bono empirical research model at a state level through a contract with Legal Aid of Nebraska
  • Collaborated with the Commission on Law and Aging on studying the impact and effectiveness of statewide emeritus pro bono rules
  • Continued to increase the availability of volunteer attorneys to provide free legal services to low-income patients of hospitals and health centers through medical-legal partnerships
  • Presented the fourth annual ABA Outstanding Pro Bono Advocacy in Medical-Legal Partnership Award in April 2015 to the Boston, Massachusetts law firm Ropes & Gray
  • Committee members and staff are regularly invited to participate in meetings, conference and other programs relating to the utilization of pro bono as a core component of the legal services delivery system.


It is an honor for the Committee’s staff and volunteers to actively promote pro bono as a key component of the legal services delivery system.  To be successful, we need your help.  Here are the top 5 (from lowest to highest priority) ways in which you can support our efforts:

  1. Consider a charitable contribution to support the Committee’s activities. Many of the projects described above depend on the generosity of our contributors.  Donate HERE by designating your contribution to “Other” and inserting “The Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service” in the accompanying box that appears.
  1. Participate in the National Celebration of Pro Bono each year. Host an event, volunteer, develop collaborations and more.
  1. Attend the annual ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference.
  1. Keep us updated on your pro bono policy and programmatic developments. Send us ( examples of your program flyers, intake forms, co-counsel agreements and more for us to add to our Clearinghouse of pro bono material.  Call us for assistance.  We stand ready to help you with all of your pro bono project development needs.  Contact Cheryl Zalenski with your requests for assistance at 312-988-5770.
  1. Take a pro bono case. Sign up to represent one of the many unaccompanied minor immigrants desperately in need of legal help or sign up for ABA Legal Answers when it goes live in your state next year or find a legal services provider in your community who needs lawyers to help preserve someone’s home or other vital right.  It’ll be a win-win-win for you, the program and your client.

 Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!

 Mary K. Ryan is a partner at the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP and Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.

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Studying Pro Bono at the State Level: Nebraska Completes Survey of Attorneys


Earlier this month, Nebraska released the results of its statewide pro bono survey, Supporting Justice in Nebraska: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of Nebraska’s Lawyers. The survey, conducted at the beginning of 2015, asked Nebraska attorneys to give us the skinny on all things pro bono: their attitudes, reservations, and confessions of how much or how little pro bono they did in 2014.

The Nebraska survey was developed based on American Bar Association’s third national survey of attorneys, the results of which are found in Supporting Justice III: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers, providing a snapshot of the pro bono terrain in America. Interested in developing a more nuanced look at local pro bono trends and behaviors, Legal Aid of Nebraska, the Nebraska State Bar Association, and the Nebraska Supreme Court Committee on Self Represented Litigation all collaborated to survey Nebraska’s 5,000+ attorneys. The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service provided support for this endeavor.

So, what have Nebraska attorneys been up to?

The report shows that 58.3% of the respondents provided pro bono service in 2014 and almost one fourth provided at least 50 hours of service throughout the year. Like the national findings, the majority of attorneys believe pro bono is either somewhat or very important, but are most typically deterred from providing pro bono by time constraints. The report, however, deviates from Supporting Justice III in a number of ways, showing that state-level surveys may provide useful alternative lenses for thinking about pro bono.

The Nebraska survey experiments with a more concrete and explicit definition of pro bono than was provided in the national survey in an attempt to reduce the subjectivity commonly associated with self-reporting. In addition, while the national report focused on practice setting differences, the Nebraska report delves into geographic, gender and age differences within the state’s attorney population. Specifically, it takes steps towards teasing out some of the influences of family, gender, and professionalism. The report by no means settles such questions, but certainly demonstrates that the meaning we ascribe to pro bono and the subsequent decisions we make to take a case or not are complicated and intertwined with our personal and professional lives.

The report concludes with a set of policy and program recommendations. Although some of these recommendations respond to Nebraska-specific trends, they may also be useful for other jurisdictions contemplating new ways to expand engagement of the private bar. For example, the report identifies opportunities to enlist more lawyers to do the types of pro bono that most directly benefit poor clients. Strategies include building and ensuring institutional support for pro bono; increasing pro bono initiatives that are organized and supported by employers; educating attorneys about the resources and opportunities available; and pursuing innovative approaches that respond to the attorney population’s interests, needs and personal constraints.

Which states will be next to collect this information?

The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is now contemplating making this survey tool available and providing assistance to those who are considering replication of this survey in other states. Given the ways in which the Nebraska report deviated from the national report, state level replication of this survey might provide some interesting insights. Building on the national level findings from Supporting Justice III by collecting state-specific data can also help us understand the nuances of pro bono activity and develop evidence-based innovations. Any inquiries regarding state replications of this survey should be directed to April at

April Faith-Slaker is the Director of the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives and a Senior Staff Attorney for the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.

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Senior Lawyers Serving Justice


During my over three decades of working on the promotion and expansion of pro bono I have attended dozens of ceremonies, award programs, receptions, luncheons and more where pro bono lawyers are recognized for their volunteer legal services commitment. The programs I enjoy the most are those where the room is buzzing with electricity. A deep sense of pride pervades. The sense of spirit and heart is profound. I recently had one of those experiences as an attendee at the 2015 Massachusetts Access to Justice Fellows Program.

The ATJ Fellows Program is a project of the state ATJ and the Lawyers Clearinghouse. It affords senior lawyers and retired judges the opportunity to partner with non-profit organizations, legal services programs and the courts to provide essential legal assistance to underserved populations. The Program was launched in 2012 with seven lawyers who had already retired or who were transitioning into retirement. 20 fellows were welcomed into the program during the 2015 induction program.

Fellows devote ten to twenty hours per week on their projects, committing to work for one academic year. They meet as a group once a month to share their experiences, to meet with community leaders, and to discuss strategies for expanding the program.

The 2015-2016 Massachusetts Access to Justice Fellows will engage in a wide range of projects. One will be providing pro bono representation to non-profits on intellectual property issues. Another will be working on legislation to improve the lives of people with mental illness. A third will be addressing the unmet legal needs of veterans through the creation of a new legal clinic.

Thirty years ago, when I first started working in the pro bono field, the recently inducted Massachusetts Access to Justice Fellows were still building their careers. Yes, they might have been doing some pro bono work now and then but their time was spent primarily on serving their paying clients, growing their practices, and participating in local, state and national bar association activities. Today, the scope of the Fellows’ volunteer efforts and their commitment to spending some of their “retirement” to making a profound difference is truly impressive.

I was inspired as I listened to the program’s co-founders – Susan Finegan and Martha Koster – acknowledge last year’s Fellows and introduce those participating this year. There’s a simplicity to the initiative premised on the idea that if you encourage senior attorneys to apply their skills and experience in support of access to justice they will step up to help. This is one of those programs that could easily be replicated in communities across the country. My hope is that thirty years from now today’s young lawyers will be lining up to dedicate some of their retirement to pro bono.

For more information about the Massachusetts ATJ Fellows Program visit their website at or contact its director, Mia Friedman, at

Steven Scudder is Counsel to the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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Celebrating Our National Celebration of Pro Bono Participants

RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) — The American Bar Association is offering free legal aid this week across the state of Nevada, including the Reno area.

This October 26th news piece went on to showcase some terrific legal clinics being offered in Reno, Las Vegas and other Nevada communities during the 2015 National Celebration of Pro Bono. Though the lead is flattering, and brings great PR to the ABA, it wasn’t exactly accurate. It got me thinking.

As we come to the end of the seventh ABA-sponsored National Celebration of Pro Bono I’m reflecting back on a decision made by the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service at the very beginning of the initiative. Faced with a choice of actively and strongly promoting the Celebration of Pro Bono as an American Bar Association event or letting go of the reins and allowing it to grow and develop locally as appropriate for each community, the Committee chose the latter.

Pro Bono Committee staff work hard each year to provide resources, strategies, ideas, promotional products and technical assistance (see: but the Celebration of Pro Bono is successful, and always has been, because of the leadership and commitment made at a statewide and local level.

This year, under the leadership of ABA President Paulette Brown, an important new element was added to the Celebration – And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service. The added incentive and role modeling provided by President Brown resulted in more interest, excitement and events than ever. But, none of that would have happened without the leadership and commitment made at a statewide and local level.

With more data to be entered we are currently showing over 525 different entities which have sponsored events and more than 800 events scheduled for the 2015 National Celebration of Pro Bono. Yes, the ABA’s Pro Bono Committee is honored to have created a construct through which this energy could be channeled. And, and KRNV, thanks for the shout-out! Ultimately though, communities across America are better because of your efforts to Celebrate (praise, commend, promote, honor, stimulate, enhance) Pro Bono in response to statewide and local needs. Thank you for Celebrating with us this year.

Mary Ryan is chair of the ABA Standing Comittee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

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And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service


Celebrate! The American Bar Association has designated October 25-31, 2015 as the National Celebration of Pro Bono. This year the National Celebration takes on special significance as ABA President Paulette Brown has added a new dimension. And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service is President Brown’s signature event and her goal is to mobilize tens of thousands of lawyers to provide free legal services to those who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

It’s all about access; access to justice! This National Celebration is a tool for enhancing and expanding local and statewide efforts to increase access to justice for all. There is an enormous gap in the justice system between those who can afford justice and those for whom justice is denied because they cannot afford a lawyer. Lawyers and other legal professionals can help close that gap by participating in this national day of service. President Brown is calling for a massive, collective effort on October 30.

President Brown and the American Bar Association want to increase the level of pro bono participation among lawyers in this country. Some of the other goals of the celebration include, mobilizing community support for pro bono service, fostering collaborative relationships in communities where legal needs are critical, and highlighting the significant contributions lawyers make in the communities they serve.

During the celebration the ABA will recognize the most outstanding contributions made by lawyers all across the county. Lawyers love a little friendly competition! Please visit to register for And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service and to find out more information about this exciting new initiative. Please use the hashtag #AbAdayofservice throughout the week as you and organizations you volunteer with engage in pro bono activities.

Thank you for your participation in this effort to shine a positive light on the contributions of America’s lawyers in the fight to end injustice. Let’s celebrate pro bono this year like never before and make President Brown and lawyers everywhere proud to be members of this noble profession.

Hon. Lora J. Livingston

Hon. Lora J. Livingston

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 Pro Bono and Public Service. She is currently chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID).

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Pro Bono for Financial Empowerment


“Holistic pro bono” is an idea whose time may have come. When used in the legal pro bono community, the term refers to supplying a needy client with help that may go beyond legal help to include help from other professionals such as housing counselors, addiction experts, accountants, technology specialists, and so on.

The idea may have just had a substantial boost from the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the “CFPB”), the Federal agency created by the Dodd-Frank law and charged with protecting consumers of financial products and services. While the agency has regulatory and enforcement power, Congress also charged it broadly with educating consumers in financial matters.

Underlying the financial education part of its charge, the likely assumption is that nearly all consumers could benefit from knowing more about household budgeting, cash flow, credit reporting, limits on bill collecting, and a whole array of other financial matters that touch nearly everyone. Education in “financial literacy” is, of course, not new. But it seems quite unlikely that the many sources for financial literacy education reach many of those who need it most. Finance is hard, and a subject that sounds boring and inaccessible to many. A person being hounded by creditors, or refused a job on account of a poor credit score, seems very unlikely to see even a free course in “financial literacy” to be part of a solution.

One front in the Agency’s approach has been to offer consumers “financial empowerment,” through a delivery model different enough to warrant a different name. Indeed, the agency’s delivery model for its empowerment education could well be unique and is certainly unique to this subject matter. The model is to put powerful financial “tools” into the hands of those who work with consumers and teach those providers to identify the tool(s) a given client may need so the provider can then educate the client in how to use the tool(s). To give a simple example, one of the “tools” is a form to capture a consumer’s cash flow over time. The idea is to allow the consumer to recognize points during the month when she is out of cash so that she can adjust her habits to avoid running short (and therefore having to borrow money, bounce a check, or run into default on a bill). If, when working with a consumer, the service provider recognizes that the client has a “cash flow problem,” she will teach the client how to use one or more of the cash flow budgeting tools and begin to fix the problem.

It is a safe bet that nearly every client of a pro bono lawyer (whether their primary problem is located in family law, immigration law, criminal law, or credit and business law) will also be experiencing some financial problems that will get worse unless attended to. The idea is that the lawyer will append to the “primary” work that brought the client in a little bit of financial help, thereby giving the client an extra boost. Clients who would not have dreamed of attending a free financial literacy class or of obtaining credit counseling may be exposed to financial education through a tool that can actually improve their financial lives. The toolkit – Your Money, Your Goals – may thus reach people that have been heretofore unreachable and perhaps most in need of tools to handle personal finance.

Several other features of this delivery method suggest that it holds great promise. First, the financial education is targeted to specific need; it follows a diagnosis by the service provider that tailors the education to the most pressing client problems. This contrasts strongly with more generalized “financial literacy” education that may or may not connect with the problems that brought the consumer there in the first place. This CFPB approach thus treats financial education incrementally: it delivers a small amount of real help connected to an identified problem. Second, because it is targeted to help with a particular, concrete financial problem of the client’s, it is not abstract. The client learns to use the tool(s) in her own situation thereby anchoring the learning with actual practice. Learning of this kind is far more likely to “stick” than something more abstract, divorced from a real situation. Clients are far more likely to understand and absorb learning that is directed to a real problem that they are experiencing.

Third, the entire toolkit is drafted in a “consumer-friendly” way that makes it usable as a consumer self-help manual. If the provider’s time with the client is short, this enables the provider simply to point the client to the most promising tools and urge her to learn about them and use them herself. This will, once again, result in stronger client learning because using the tools makes the learning operational and likely to be more resilient.

To make it all work, pro bono lawyers and others who work with consumers need training with the toolkit (so they know what tools are available and how to use them). To this end, the Agency is training a coterie of trainers around the country who may be available to train or advise legal services staffs, social workers, pro bono lawyers, and others. To inquire about training opportunities, please contact The toolkits, written for different kinds of providers, and training manuals to go with them are freely available at the CFPB’s website,

Elevating financial sophistication among consumers in our population is an enormous task, one that will foster better consumer self-protection and financial welfare and improve our economy as well. The situation has not likely become appreciably better with the many excellent efforts at financial literacy education currently available. The CFPB’s financial empowerment program very different approach to this task, to take it one client at a time, is new; if it takes off, it carries great promise.

William Woodward

William Woodward

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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