President's Message

Lawyers Do Well by Doing Good

Posted Oct 1, 2011 4:40 AM CDT
By Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III

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Photo by Marc Hauser

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Now, as our nation faces economic uncertainty and anemic state court budgets threaten access to justice, it is important for us to do what is right as lawyers.

Pro bono work helps our communities grow stronger, and it makes us better lawyers. We learn about fields outside our expertise. We develop new skills and sharp en those we already have. Then there are intangible things we learn, like leadership, judgment and empathy. When we volunteer time and expertise to assist the most vulnerable in our society, we help fulfill the promise of justice for all.

Volunteerism is in our professional souls. It’s part of our DNA. And it may be the most interesting, challenging and rewarding part of our careers. Pro bono work reminds us why we became lawyers in the first place.

The ABA has encouraged pro bono work and public service throughout its history. Our Model Rule 6.1 says every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal service to those unable to pay. To fulfill this responsibility, the ABA asks professionals to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services every year.

For most of us, we have the will to do good, but we just need to carve out the time to do it. Each day is a new opportunity to help others. We challenge you to go beyond the number of pro bono hours you volunteered last year. Make this your best year ever. If you have not yet started your great work for the year, now is the time.

This month, Kansas Legal Services will hold a free document preparation clinic to help seniors write wills and advance medical directives. In Michigan, Thomas M. Cooley Law School and four other organizations will jointly offer free assistance to renters who have tenant-landlord issues. These are just two examples of the good work lawyers do every day, across the country.

The ABA helps lawyers connect with clients in need. The association is organizing Celebrate Pro Bono week, to be held Oct. 23-29. This annual event will high light volunteer work that, in a lagging economy, is more important than ever. Last year, more than 1,300 programs were held, including Ask a Lawyer in the Library, a free legal clinic in Anne Arundel County, Md. State and local bar associations also organized hundreds of CLEs on bankruptcy, mortgage assistance and other daily issues facing Americans. We hope you will consider joining the ABA’s effort this year in your community. Together we can make this Celebrate Pro Bono week our biggest, most successful volunteer event ever.

The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service encourages new, creative ideas on how to serve our communities. Please send your thoughts and comments to us at celebrateprobono@americanbar.org. The ABA will publish the results during Celebrate Pro Bono week.

Volunteer work too often goes unnoticed, so every issue of our ABA Journal features a new section called Lawyers Giving Back. We publish photos of lawyer volunteers helping neighbors and building stronger communities. Please take a look at this feature and send us photos of yourself and colleagues making a positive difference through volunteerism or public service work.

In difficult economic times, you might guess that pro bono work would be on the decline, but Ohio lawyers logged 45 percent more hours in 2010 than in 2009—a total of nearly 140,000! It’s a very encouraging sign that lawyers are rallying to meet the challenges of our times.

Pro bono work provides access to justice for thousands of Americans. Everyone can be sure that lawyers will continue to serve now and in the years to come. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are.

Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, Frost Brown Todd LLC, is a civil litigator and member-in-charge of FBT’s office in Florence, Ky., and also has an office with FBT in Cincinnati.

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