OP/ED: Good News, Greater Opportunity
By H. Thomas Wells Jr., President, American Bar Association
March 11, 2009 (SmartPros) There's a lot of good news about lawyers in the recently released pro bono study from the American Bar Association. But more important, the study provides good new for the consumer of legal services.
First, the study shows that nearly three-fourths of lawyers voluntarily provide free legal services to a deserving cause or person, otherwise known as pro bono. Second, the study shows that lawyers devote more hours to pro bono legal services now than in the past. Third, it indicates that lawyers are doing pro bono work at nearly three times the rate that the general population does volunteer work.
These figures demonstrate the concern that lawyers have for people and organizations in their communities. As members of the legal profession, we can take pride in the amount and kind of work being done. Lawyers are among the first to answer the call for assistance—whether it’s providing legal help for families displaced by natural disasters such as last year’s floods in the Midwest or fires in California. Lawyers also responded to community misfortune, such as the skyrocketing numbers of foreclosures last year throughout Ohio when asked to help by the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court and the President of the Ohio State Bar Association.
The study—Supporting Justice II: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers – was conducted in 2008 and updates a study completed in 2004.
The 2008 study introduced at the recent 2009 ABA Midyear Meeting in Boston, shows that 73 percent of lawyers reported doing pro bono in the 2008 study compared to 66 percent of lawyers reporting pro bono work in the 2004 study. The number of hours of pro bono work performed by each lawyer reporting has increased as well, to 41 hours per lawyer per year in 2008 up from an average of 39 hours per lawyer in 2004.
Sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, the study shows only 26.2 percent of the general population does volunteer work compared to nearly three-fourths of lawyers who provide pro bono legal services.
Although the pro bono work by lawyers continues to increase, we have a way to go before we reach the aspirational goal of the ABA, which is 50 hours a year for each lawyer in the country. And, while lawyers donate more than 25.7 million hours of service annually, the disadvantaged still do not have access to the legal help they need 80 percent of the time, according to ABA research.
We can take pride in this record and what it shows about the commitment lawyers have to serving their communities. We also can do even more.
For help in identifying groups in your area needing pro bono assistance, please visit http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/probono/volunteer.html for a list of projects. This directory allows lawyers to find ways to serve that are suited to their talents and the time they have available.
I am asking each of you to do more because there are still so many individuals, families and organizations that need our help.