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Building Momentum

Renaissance of Idealism Initiative Puts Focus on Community Service Work

Posted Apr 21, 2006 6:23 AM CDT
By James Podgers

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When it comes to his Renaissance of Ideal­ism in the Legal Profession Initiative, ABA Presi­dent Michael S. Greco is willing to show a little patience.

“A renaissance, a move­ment, doesn’t start up overnight,” he said when he introduced a program on the role of lawyers as civic leaders in Feb­ruary during the ABA Midyear Meet­ing in Chicago.

But Greco also is showing persistence, which is starting to produce momentum for the initiative he spearheaded at the start of his presidency.

“The lawyer as public citizen is what I’m talking about,” said Greco of Boston in explaining the initiative at the midyear meeting program. “I formed the Commis­sion on a Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession last August because I saw an opportunity for the ABA to commit its resources and the talents of its members to encour­age and enable more lawyers to perform more pro bono and public service work in their communities.”

Pitching in

Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, Greco said, “I was impressed by the leadership that lawyers always showed in serving on town and school boards, help­ing to solve and prevent problems, and making our town a better place for all its residents.”

That kind of commitment still exists among lawyers, said Greco, but it’s undermined by the mounting demands of their law practices.

“Lawyers desperately want to give to their communities and their nation,” he said, “but the pressures of the modern practice of law make it more and more difficult to do so.”

Shortly after it was formed, the renaissance commission introduced an online Pro Bono and Public Service Best Practices Resource Guide (www.abanet.org/renaissance).

Greco also has praised the efforts of lawyers helping hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast region for their commitment to both public service and pro bono.

In Chicago, the ABA House of Delegates gave further momentum to the idealism initiative when it adopted a policy urging lawyers to contribute to the public good through both pro bono and community service. The renaissance commission’s recommendation also urges law firms and other employers to make it easier for lawyers to provide community service.

“The ABA has adopted a series of policies that seek to reinforce the importance of pro bono services, but the association has never adopted comparable policy encouraging lawyers to participate in other kinds of service to their communities,” states the report of the commission, which is chaired by Mark D. Agrast of Washington, D.C. “This recommendation seeks to remedy that omission.” Ultimately, states the report, “it is the individual who has the power to make the most difference to others through community service endeavors.”

Ronald W. Ward of Seattle brought that point home at the program on lawyers as civic leaders. During the comment period, Ward, the immediate past president of the Washington State Bar Association, explained why he always makes sure his shoes are shined and his suits pressed when he teaches reading to children in impoverished neighborhoods. The reason, he said, was to show the children an alternative to neighborhood drug dealers.

“I don’t think we realize how much impact we can have on a one-to-one basis,” Ward said. “To hear just one kid say, ‘I want to be like you,’ ought to get the music going in your head.”

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