A Call to Honor: Increasing Our
Pro Bono Services
This is the year to substantially increase our pro bono services. In my initial column in the July issue I described the crisis in the delivery of legal services. We will continue our support of the staffed legal services programs. But no matter how successful these efforts, the gap between the need and the resources will be a great chasm. Our challenge is to fill more of that gap with our own services than ever before and in doing that to exemplify our highest professional ideal better than ever before. The opportunity is to have a stronger pro bono system long-term.
This year my number one priority as MSBA president is to substantially increase pro bono services and to take ten concrete actions designed to achieve that goal and establish a stronger base for the future. The goal and the actions to take have been planned with our Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee. We have been working on them since before the beginning of the bar year; by the time you read this column we are well underway.
We seek 500 new volunteers and 1,000 more cases. We seek a comparable number of new law student volunteers and more cases by law students. While these action items are directed toward the short-term goal, many of them will have long-term consequences.
To make this happen:
1. Business Law Pro Bono. We will adopt a plan and launch a new business law pro bono program that will call on business lawyers (the other half of the profession) to use their skills to assist nonprofits and microenterprise businesses with the goal of community economic development. A task force has been working during the past year and completed its report in July. Our Board of Governors approved it on September 12 of this year.
2. Law Firms and Corporate Counsel. We will meet with managing partners and challenge them to contribute. We will follow up and help them develop internal programs or improve internal programs and report their results. We met with them in June and have followed up.
3. Judicial Districts and the Judiciary. We will meet with the chief judges of each judicial district and work with them to develop or update a pro bono plan for each judicial district. We met with the chief judges of each district in July and this work is in progress.
4. Direct Appeals to Lawyers. The MSBA president will write at least one column on the subject and will send at least one letter to each MSBA member. Pro bono leaders will appear at cle programs and at as many bar association meetings as possible to get the message out. Lawyers shall be asked, individually, to handle a case. Pro bono marketing materials will be developed. This is that first column and lad members are making presentations at cle programs and other meetings.
5. Database. We will develop a standard form for reporting pro bono services, including categories of cases. We will identify the "programs" or providers of pro bono services and get them to help us count. By this we will develop a baseline to measure our results in this bar year and in future years. This project is underway.
6. New Lawyers. We will prepare and deliver information on pro bono for new lawyers at the swearing-in ceremonies and I will emphasize this topic at the ceremonies. We will also emphasize pro bono service by lawyers in their first few years of practice.
7. Law Students. This is the future. We will challenge and support the Minnesota Justice Foundation (MJF) to achieve for the first time its goal of 80 percent pro bono participation by graduating law students. We will include pro bono in a more direct way within the professional responsibility classes in all of the law schools. We will call on law students to help with these and other initiatives.
8. Online Pro Bono Initiative. The pro bono directory will be improved and placed online. In every possible way, attention will be directed to it. We will also improve ProJusticeMN.org and direct attention to it. We will use this site for direct case placement. Our Bankruptcy Section will develop a bankruptcy pro bono Web page, support bankruptcy pro bono, and make it a national model. The pro bono directory telling all lawyers where they can volunteer is online at www.ProjusticeMN.org/volunteer. The Bankruptcy Section has a grant and has hired Katie Kimlinger to help them.
9. Recognition. We will develop and implement a program of regular recognition of volunteers through publicity in local newspapers and by annual ceremonies, Bench & Bar recognition, attention at the convention, and other methods. The principal goal of this recognition will be to give encouragement to our volunteers to continue their efforts. A secondary goal will be to let the public know about the good work that lawyers do.
10. Staff. The MSBA will support these efforts by hiring a part-time staff person solely dedicated to implementing these steps. Nancy Wallrich is on board and has been a great help already.
Public service is central to the definition of a profession, of a calling. Without it we are only a trade -- butchers, cosmetologists, investment bankers. We were attracted to law because of that element. We admire Atticus Finch who, in "To Kill a Mockingbird" did not turn down the judge's call to defend, pro bono, an unpopular defendant. Now we are all called -- it is a call to honor.
JIM BAILLIE is president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. A shareholder in the firm of Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., he concentrates his practice in business bankruptcy and insolvency law and related litigation and business transactions.