Christina Jackson finds that when attorneys hesitate to take on a pro bono case, it’s sometimes as simple as them not feeling comfortable with the process for resolving that case.
The Washington Council of Lawyers, where Jackson serves as deputy director, hopes to alleviate these concerns with tours of the D.C. Superior Court courthouse’s Domestic Violence and Criminal Divisions on Oct. 21 and Oct. 24 during DC Pro Bono Week. The Network for Victim Recovery of DC will also attend to discuss issues domestic violence and sexual assault survivors may encounter and how they can access civil protection orders and other resources.
“Tour participants will get to see what their clients will face when they come to court, ask questions and find out what opportunities there are to volunteer to help these clients,” Jackson says. “And, as with everything we do for DC Pro Bono Week, the goal of the courthouse tours is to translate lawyer interest into pro bono representation.”
DC Pro Bono Week coincides with the National Celebration of Pro Bono, held Oct. 20-26 this year. The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service created the annual celebration in 2009 to draw attention to the need for pro bono and to show appreciation for the attorneys who volunteer their time throughout the year.
Since then, more than 8,000 events have been held in 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and Canada.
This year’s celebration highlights the importance of providing legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
ABA President Judy Perry Martinez served as the chair of the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and said in a news release that she saw how pro bono legal services impacted domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
“Legal assistance can literally mean the difference between life and death,” she said. “Mobilizing lawyers throughout the country to provide services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors during the National Celebration of Pro Bono is part of our long-term commitment to furthering access to justice. Having the opportunity to serve will make us all better lawyers and better people.”
In addition to the Washington Council of Lawyers, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is one of many organizations nationwide hosting events that focus on this theme.
Julia Rodriguez, the director of client services for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, says that domestic violence is an increasing problem that still doesn’t receive enough attention. It can lead to many other legal issues, including those involving children, employment and housing.
Her organization will host an all-day CLE program Oct. 22 to educate attorneys on representing survivors of domestic violence.
“We are always eager to be involved in pro bono week, to make other attorneys aware of the issues surrounding family violence and to connect with the local bar associations and get them interested in helping our client population,” Rodriguez says. “We have 20,000 to 30,000 eligible applicants per attorney, so pro bono is crucial.”
Other organizations, including the Connecticut Bar Association, are getting involved with the National Celebration of Pro Bono for the first time.
Amy Lin Meyerson, president-elect of the CBA and chair of its pro bono committee, says the association has previously hosted pro bono clinics for veterans and other pro bono events. But this year, it will join the ABA in its celebration by offering free legal advice at two pro bono clinics on Oct. 22 and Oct. 24.
“Everywhere, everyone has an obligation to engage in pro bono,” Meyerson says. “It’s important to provide access to justice, and with our clinics, attorneys who can’t volunteer their time for months or even a year on one particular case can spend 30 minutes of their time advising a client on an issue that is important to the client and well-being.”
Katherine Shank, the deputy director of Legal Aid Chicago, serves as the co-chair of Chicago’s Pro Bono Week—which also parallels the National Celebration of Pro Bono. Its events include an experiential learning simulation on Oct. 21 that shows attendees what it’s like to be a young person involved with the justice system and a pro bono and community service fair on Oct. 23 that connects more than 40 organizations with attorneys interested in volunteering.
In recent years, Shank says that newer lawyers who consider pro bono to be an integral part of their practice have shown significant interest in getting involved.
“We’ve seen increased numbers of people who are really excited about working with us and doing so at the outset of their career,” she says. “We know that once people get involved in pro bono, they continue to do it.”
A comprehensive list of events and resources can be found at the National Celebration of Pro Bono website.
Pro bono events can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #celebrateprobono.
ABAJournal.com: “Do you or your firm have activities planned for the National Celebration of Pro Bono?”