Breaking Down Pro Bono Barriers for the Average Attorney

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Why Pro Bono

An American Bar Association (“ABA”) survey recently revealed that the top motivations for attorneys to engage in pro bono work are helping those in need, ethical obligations, and professional duty.1 Yet, it was also found that 1 in 5 attorneys have never undertaken any pro bono service of any kind.2 Lack of time, commitments to family or other personal obligations, and lack of skills or experience were among the top reasons attorneys were discouraged from engaging with indigent individuals in need. It is also unsurprising that many attorneys were found to avoid pro bono because of malpractice insurance concerns—liability is not just discouraging, but often a non-starter. In order to fulfill attorneys’ desire to do good and close the intense justice gap locally and nationally, accessibility to pro bono work for attorneys is just as essential as accessibility for indigent individuals in need of their services. In this post, we explore accessibility and discuss how the pro bono infrastructure in the city of Richmond has helped many area attorneys overcome the barriers to providing their services to those in need.

Time Constraints

While many large firms have the resources to engage in worthy long-term pro bono cases, there is a significant need for short-term assistance on exceedingly simple matters. No-fault divorces (“NFD”, life planning documentation (wills), and eviction diversion (“EDP”) are among the most voluminous of cases in need of pro bono attorneys. While the time commitment to each of these varies, they can typically be expected to fall within a small range. NFDs typically take 3-4 hours per case, a will can be drafted in 15 to 20 minutes, while an EDP case can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. These rather short, one-and-done cases provide extreme relief to those in receipt in exchange for a very small gift of time. The deep impact these cases have is a topic for another future blog post but is easy to imagine; personal freedom, orderly affairs, and stable housing are among the most basic but cherished comforts that can be afforded to any person.

Lack of Skills or Experience

Though a number of attorneys have general civil practice experience, many limit their practice to narrow fields of law. A practicing bankruptcy attorney might feel apprehensive about their ability to write a will; a mergers and acquisitions attorney likely isn’t confident about assisting an NFD. The reality is, however, that these matters are most in need of legal assistance in our community and that need cannot be met by only those with extensive experience in those fields. Luckily, GRBF and other organizations regularly schedule trainings to help attorneys become comfortable with matters with which many pro bono attorneys are unfamiliar.

For instance, there will be two CLE trainings at GRBFs Annual Pro Bono Celebration this year: one for Domestic Violence Protective Orders and another for NFDs. In under an hour, any type of attorney with no family law experience will be able to understand how to handle these matters with ease. If you miss the celebration or can’t find upcoming trainings, GRBF is always happy to connect volunteers with step-by-step resources and seasoned volunteers to walk you through the process.

Further, GRBF is currently developing a Wills-in-a-Box resource for any and all firms and organizations wishing to provide Wills Clinics for folks in need. The life-planning documents needed by indigent clients are very basic and an attorney’s assistance with this sort of pro bono work is largely confirming wishes and explaining very basic legal concepts. Virtually no experience in life planning documentation is needed to rack up some pro bono hours at a Wills Clinic, or for assisting with wills drafting remotely.

Liability

For most attorneys, pro bono work is done on their own time and thus, on their own dime. Some large firms with pro bono departments have the financial ability to calm liability concerns with malpractice insurance, but the vast majority do not. Malpractice insurance doesn’t always cover pro bono work and the cost of modifying a current policy or purchasing a second, stand-alone policy to cover pro bono work precludes an attorney’s ability to participate at all.

Luckily, GRBF has a malpractice insurance policy that covers any and all pro bono work done by attorneys through Justice Server. JusticeServer connects attorneys with clients and legal organizations seeking legal assistance for indigent clients. Registering for JusticeServer takes less than two minutes and completely eliminates the liability concern for attorneys in the Richmond area.

JusticeServer

Getting Started

JusticeServer also makes finding pro bono work to do incredibly easy. Central Virginia Legal Aid, Legal Aid Justice Center, Legal Aid Works, Blue Ridge Legal Services, and Legal Services of Northern Virginia are among the organizations that post cases in need of legal assistance to JusticeServer. When you express interest in a case, rest assured that these organizations have already vetted the clients receiving the representation and are indeed in need of and eligible for free legal assistance.


1 ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, ABA SURVEY ON PRO BONO IN ILLINOIS §Legal Aid Overview (2017). FIX

2 Id.

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