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‘Pro bono’ week kicks off in New York, nationwide

 This week is a celebration of lawyers.

That’s something you don’t hear every day, but the American Bar Association on Monday will kick off a national campaign for the second year in a row to put the spotlight on all of the pro bono and volunteer work done by lawyers and their staffs.

National Pro Bono Week finds the American, state and local bars and legal organizations hosting hundreds of events, giving help to low-income clients, providing education, job coaching and even clothing drives, said Mark Schickman, a San Francisco-based lawyer and national co-chairman of the pro bono celebration.

The event grew out of the desire to increase lawyer involvement in pro bono work and celebrate the lawyers and staff who do volunteer. There’s a growing need for pro bono work, Schickman said, in part because of a new poverty group.

“There is a new class of clientele over the past couple years of middle class who have lost jobs and homes and find themselves homeless,” he said.

He said more than 2,000 people used free legal clinics last year at universities in Michigan, Tennessee and California. A group of lawyers in Miami this year will offer job advice and are holding a clothing drive for job interview-appropriate wear.

Schickman said the legal needs of 80 percent of those in poverty are not being met. He said that even though 80 percent of ABA members volunteer their services, more could be done. He said the average volunteer gives 39 hours a year, but if that number rose to 50 hours a year, along with the number of members volunteering, the bar could make a serious dent in serving the poor.

“A quarter of the people who don’t volunteer were surveyed and said they were simply not asked to volunteer,” Schickman said.

The Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County Inc. will hold several events this week to raise awareness, including a CLE “Ethics Redux,” which will be broadcast to the more rural areas of the judicial district. The course will be offered free to attorneys in exchange a commitment to accept pro bono case referrals or provide service to clinics.

Panelists for the class will include U.S. Magistrate Judge Marian Payson; Fourth Department Attorney Grievance Committee Chief Counsel Gregory Huether and Christopher Werner of Boylan, Brown, Code, Vigdor & Wilson LLP. The program will begin at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Hall of Justice, Room 165, and will be broadcast live to the county courthouses in Steuben, Ontario, Wayne, Livingston, Seneca, Yates and Cayuga counties.

Southern Tier Legal Services, a Division of Legal Assistance of Western New York, and ProBonoNY are sponsoring two events. The first will be held Oct. 28 on matrimonial law and the second, on Oct. 29, will be a pro bono recognition reception honoring Steuben County volunteer attorneys. Both will be held at Southern Tier Legal Services, 104 E. Steuben St., Bath.

Linda Kostin, the pro bono coordinator for the Seventh Judicial District’s Pro Bono Action Now Program, said volunteerism is a large part of the the local legal community’s culture.

“We have a national reputation, and it’s borne out throughout the community,” she said.

The New York State Bar Association also is embracing  the pro bono celebration.

“Lawyers who volunteer their time to pro bono service are the true heroes of our profession,” New York State Bar President Stephen P. Younger said Friday in a written statement. “By answering the call to help those in need, lawyers are making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.

“National Pro Bono Week provides us with an opportunity to not only celebrate the good that lawyers do, but to also encourage that spirit of giving back to the community that has become a hallmark of the legal profession,” Younger said.

More than 1,400 state bar association members donated an estimated 250,000 hours of free legal services last year, ranging from child custody, immigration matters, bankruptcy, mortgage foreclosures and providing assistance and counsel to victims of mass disasters and their families, according to a bar association report.

Gov. David A. Paterson also got in on the lawyerly love Friday, issuing a proclamation declaring the week of Oct. 24-30 as National Pro Bono Week. Similar proclamations were made in the cities of Albany, Amsterdam, Binghamton, Cohoes, Lake George, Niagara Falls, Oswego, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, Troy, Utica and Yonkers.
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