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Federal Judges Honor Pro Bono – But Exclude Solos

by Carolyn Elefant on April 19, 2005 · 12 comments

in Pro Bono

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According to this Press Release, the Chief Judges of the D.C. Circuit will be honoring eight Washington D.C. law firms for commitment to pro bono as evidenced by meeting a benchmark of 40 percent of lawyers performing 50 hours or more of pro bono service.  But sadly, though I’m a member of the DC Bar, neither I nor any of my solo colleagues qualify for such honor despite the fact that many of us have met or exceeded the fifty hour pro bono commitment for which the large firms are being honored.  And the reason we’re excluded is because we’re solo; according to the press release, only firms of 25 attorneys or more are eligible to enter the so-called "40 for 50" Competition to begin with.

Seems a little inconsistent with what this type of event is supposed to accomplish.  According to this quote from Chief Judge Hogan in the Press Release:

"To realize the idea of ‘justice for all’ we must realize that all must play their part. Although this award recognizes law firms, our true intention is to
recognize those who donated their time and talent — the firm leaders
who fostered meaningful pro bono programs, the attorneys who took on
cases when their workloads were already full, and the support staff who
no doubt served a needed role."

So, the bar wants everyone to play its part in realizing "justice for all" – and yet it refuses to acknowledge the efforts of solo and small firm attorneys who help bring about justice day by day, whether through performing pro bono outright or reducing rates to serve clients who could not otherwise afford legal services.  And in many instances, we provide that pro bono when our workloads are already full – and without support staff to help out.

To add final insult to injury, the tag line at the bottom of the Press Release says that the Judge’s reception is a private event.  Meaning that no one from the bar or the public, outside of the press, can watch these large firms bask in glory or learn of their accomplishments, despite the fact that the judges hosting the reception are on the public payroll.  Why is that?  Are the achievements not worthy of public display?  Or is the reception not so much an award but rather a quid pro quo where big firms cash in on pro bono service by obtaining one-on-one access to the federal judges at an exclusive ceremony.  Sounds harsh, but let’s face it – that’s how it looks from the outside peering in.

Come on DC – let’s follow the example of the Florida Bar Association which honors lawyers for real pro bono service, regardless of the size of their law firm.  Take a look at Local Attorney Honored for Pro Bono Work which reports on the FBA’s award to small firm attorney Jacqulyn Mack for pro bono service that included work with Legal Aid of Manasota and Florida Rural Legal Services Inc, serving as a guradian ad litem, acting as a legal advocate for children in court cases and has co-chairing the annual "law week" event in South County that teaches fifth-graders about the legal system.  Isn’t that the kind of pro bono service that we want to honor and inspire – the kind that’s borne out of a sense of professional responsibility and not an opportunity for professional gain?

  • anon

    I agree with your comments about pro big firm bias and the BS old white hairs jacking each other off to congratulate themselves over fraudulently recorded pro bono hours, but if you check out the Mack law firm’s website, you’ll conclude that firm can’t possibly get a paying client, judging by its failure to use the English language. It’s website is an embarassment to the bar.

  • anon

    I agree with your comments about pro big firm bias and the BS old white hairs jacking each other off to congratulate themselves over fraudulently recorded pro bono hours, but if you check out the Mack law firm’s website, you’ll conclude that firm can’t possibly get a paying client, judging by its failure to use the English language. It’s website is an embarassment to the bar.

  • Anonymous

    40 at 50 is a pathetically low standard. Unfortunately “law” is nothing more than “politics” and old boy frat boy networking–and apparently DC is one of the worst.

  • Anonymous

    40 at 50 is a pathetically low standard. Unfortunately “law” is nothing more than “politics” and old boy frat boy networking–and apparently DC is one of the worst.

  • http://www.kidsquared.com Mieke

    That’s pathetic. Some things never change. Ol boys networks lives and breathes.

  • http://www.kidsquared.com Mieke

    That’s pathetic. Some things never change. Ol boys networks lives and breathes.

  • BT

    I do pro bono work to help people, not in hopes of getting recognition.
    And I’m sure that’s the case for you too, Carolyn – I’m not trying to bust your chops. I’m just saying that you probably don’t want to go to the stupid reception anyhow.

  • BT

    I do pro bono work to help people, not in hopes of getting recognition.
    And I’m sure that’s the case for you too, Carolyn – I’m not trying to bust your chops. I’m just saying that you probably don’t want to go to the stupid reception anyhow.

  • Anonymous

    I never do pro bono work. When you help these people 99% of the time they do not even say thanks. It’s like the Bible story where Jesus cures people of leprosy but they cannot be bothered to say thank you. And I have yet to see pro bono performed byb my broker, plumber, doctor, dentist, etc. No one else does anything for free. So why should I? The DC judges’ attitude is one more reason to not do pro bono work.

  • Anonymous

    I never do pro bono work. When you help these people 99% of the time they do not even say thanks. It’s like the Bible story where Jesus cures people of leprosy but they cannot be bothered to say thank you. And I have yet to see pro bono performed byb my broker, plumber, doctor, dentist, etc. No one else does anything for free. So why should I? The DC judges’ attitude is one more reason to not do pro bono work.

  • http://67.225.230.212/~sh1ngl3 Carolyn Elefant

    I do agree that many times, pro bono clients don’t appreciate the service provided by lawyers – but I’m not sure how that’s different from for-fee practice. I think many of us expect pro bono clients to be more noble or grateful because they are receiving service free, but as with all of our other clients, some will say thank you and others won’t. Yes, it’s annoying but I won’t let that stop me from my pro bono obligation.
    I also agree that there are serious flaws with the way pro bono is set up. When a client is getting work on the lawyer’s dime, he or she does not have to make the kinds of economic-based tradeoffs that many paying clients do. And the standard of care for pro bono clients is the same as for fee. I’m not saying that we should provide pro bono services negligently, but should a pro bono client be entitled to “cadillac service” either?
    Finally, I have read about doctors who donate their time to providing surgery and medical care for lower income clients. I don’t know whether it’s a professional obligation, but it is done. (At the same time, try to find an expert witness who’ll work pro bono, even when the lawyer is handling the case pro bono or at a reduced fee. Now there’s a challenge!)

  • http://67.225.230.212/~sh1ngl3 Carolyn Elefant

    I do agree that many times, pro bono clients don’t appreciate the service provided by lawyers – but I’m not sure how that’s different from for-fee practice. I think many of us expect pro bono clients to be more noble or grateful because they are receiving service free, but as with all of our other clients, some will say thank you and others won’t. Yes, it’s annoying but I won’t let that stop me from my pro bono obligation.
    I also agree that there are serious flaws with the way pro bono is set up. When a client is getting work on the lawyer’s dime, he or she does not have to make the kinds of economic-based tradeoffs that many paying clients do. And the standard of care for pro bono clients is the same as for fee. I’m not saying that we should provide pro bono services negligently, but should a pro bono client be entitled to “cadillac service” either?
    Finally, I have read about doctors who donate their time to providing surgery and medical care for lower income clients. I don’t know whether it’s a professional obligation, but it is done. (At the same time, try to find an expert witness who’ll work pro bono, even when the lawyer is handling the case pro bono or at a reduced fee. Now there’s a challenge!)

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