Cooperation is key among the many recommendations of a special task force to best increase pro bono involvement by all lawyers to help meet the nation’s civil legal services needs.
“This is not something that any one segment of the legal profession can do alone,” said
James J. Sandman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Legal Services Corporation which commissioned a Pro Bono Task Force in August 2011 to come up with recommendations.
“The report reflects the input of people from across the country from all segments of the legal profession including the judiciary, law firm leaders, law school deans, pro bono lawyers, legal aid lawyers and in-house corporate counsel,” he said. “It offers a blueprint and a menu for ideas for increasing pro bono work substantially across all practice settings; urban, rural and remote.”
One of the many things C. Kenneth Perri, executive director of Legal Assistance of Western New York Inc., said he found interesting is the mention of creating a fellowship program. He said if it happens, he would be very active in applying for a grant.
His agency, which oversees programs in 14 Western New York counties including the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center and LawNY offices in Geneva and Bath, is one of 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs that receive LSC funding.
Perri would like to enhance pro bono help in the many rural parts of his region, using best practices of the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County Inc., to which it subcontracts to handle pro bono services in Monroe County.
Perri said LawNY had a program in the 1990s that included a staff attorney dedicated to pro bono work who developed relationships and efficiencies to have robust pro bono programs in all seven of its offices, but it was lost through funding cuts in a previous economic downturn.
He said LawNY is having serious conversations about bringing on dedicated staff or reconfiguring staffing assignments to focus on pro bono, which could be aided by an LSC grant.
“The other thing in the report that I found interesting is the emphasis on law students,” Perri said, noting he has a program he is losing through funding cuts that recruited, trained and placed law school students to do pro bono work. He hopes the state’s new pro bono requirement that law school students complete 50 hours of free service to the poor in order to be admitted to the bar will help fill that gap and he is looking forward to working with law schools on the new rule.
“I thought every perspective imaginable was represented,” Perri said of the task force. “The fact that LSC has this on its screen as a priority, I think is good. We try our best to meet the needs in our communities, but it is much better to have the support of the private firms and to have private practice attorneys willing to donate their time to work with our clients, as well.”
VLSP Executive Director Sheila A. Gaddis, who serves on an American Bar Association group reviewing pro bono standards, said she agrees with the LSC Pro Bono Task Force recommendation that LSC must work collaboratively with all stakeholders.
“Several of the LSC recommendations are duplicative of well-established efforts and, given scant resources, there should be consideration given to increased partnership and collaboration with the ABA Center for Pro Bono and the National Association of Pro Bono Professionalism,” she said. “The ABA has written standards for pro bono that are currently being revised by members of the ABA Summit Infrastructure Working Group (of which she is a member).”
Gaddis said VLSP works very well in partnership with LawNY and has had a subcontract to provide pro bono attorneys (PAI, private attorney involvement) in Rochester for quite some time. She said the Technology Initiative Grant Program is very successful and expanding it to pro bono programs would be helpful in upgrading VSLP’s technology.
“VLSP and LawNY are partnered in a successful TIG grant proposal to design an intake system that will streamline client intake and expedite referrals to pro bono attorneys,” Gaddis said. “It is an exciting new operational component that would not be available to VLSP without TIG grant funding and LawNY support.
“To the extent LSC can work in partnership with state bar associations, pro bono associations and the ABA Center for Pro Bono to expand best practices already under way, many of the LSC Pro Bono Task Force recommendations can be realized in a reasonable timeframe.”
Sandman, who visited the Monroe County Bar Association in March, said the LSC Pro Bono Task Force has provided “an incredible resource” to the legal community and has assembled a thoughtful series of easily accessible recommendations.
“We’ve gotten extraordinarily positive feedback about the recommendations,” he said. “They’re both ambitious and concrete and give us a lot to work with.”
The next step, Sandman said, is implementation, noting it will ultimately have to happen across the country at the local level.
“We have a group of 20 members of the task force who have volunteered to assist,” he said. “We’re off to a great start with an engaged group of people from across the country who have agreed to take the lead in implementing the recommendations to our communities.”
Sandman and others will be speaking at an event Monday at the Chicago offices of DLA Piper to celebrate the new report, along with John G. Levi, chairman of LSC’s board of directors; ABA President Laurel G. Bellows; and others.
The task force included more than 60 leaders and experts from the judiciary, major corporations, private practice, law schools, the federal government and the legal aid community.
Included on the task force is New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman who has made civil legal services one of his priorities.
A copy of the report is available on LSC’s website at www.lsc.gov
The task force’s recommendations to LSC and its grantees include:
• Forming a professional association of pro bono coordinators at LSC-funded organizations
• Asking Congress to create a new Pro Bono Innovation/Incubation Fund modeled on LSC’s successful Technology Initiatives Grant program
• Developing a fellowship program for new graduates and emeritus lawyers designed to build support for civil legal services and pro bono within firms, law schools and the legal profession as a whole.
The task force’s requests of bar leaders, the judiciary and others include:
• Permitting judges to recruit and recognize pro bono attorneys, consistent with their ethical obligations
• Allowing lawyers to take on limited-representation matters or unbundle services
• Allowing lawyers to take on pro bono matters in jurisdictions other than those in which they are licensed to practice.