Almost half of Americans do not have sufficient resources to cover a $400 emergency expense, which makes even basic legal help out of reach for many families. A Federal Reserve report published in mid-2015 provided that 47 percent of Americans indicated that they would be unable to cover this emergency expense, even on a credit card. Imagine being served papers initiating a court case or receiving a summons to appear in court. What about if your rights are violated or your property damaged? With no reserve, a legal need will be unmet. Pro bono, or free volunteer legal work, makes legal representation possible for people who would otherwise not be represented by counsel.
I’m not the only attorney at work in Portland though I am one of the attorneys who chooses to donate her time and office resources for free to pro bono clients each year.
Legal issues can be stressful and overwhelming considering the legal terminology, court procedures, time involved, and the expense. For all of my clients, I strive to alleviate some of these pressures. I encourage potential pro bono clients to accept representation by counsel they would otherwise engage if they were not faced with the insurmountable cost of retaining someone. Some people are reluctant to accept pro bono legal assistance because they suspect that the services offered aren’t really free. Some worry they will not receive quality representation.
I encourage pro bono clients to allow me to represent them because I offer full-service representation to every client regardless of how much they have paid for my services. Pro bono clients are entitled to receive the same level of service lawyers provide to paying clients. I believe in fulfilling my professional responsibility to each client and for me, that means putting the full range of my experience and expertise as a legal advocate behind a client to advance their interests. Sometimes having a lawyer is the only way a person can be sure that he is protected to the greatest extent possible. Pro bono services can be the pathway to harnessing legal power.
This is the Way I Volunteer
When I sign up a pro bono client, I am choosing to work on a case that will not yield any payment for the time I put in or a portion of a judgment award. It might not seem as tangible as working in a food kitchen but for me, it is the best way I can volunteer: I offer the specialized skills I use to earn my living to someone who needs but cannot afford these services. The state bar encourages but does not require pro bono hours. My goal is to provide more than the minimum number of hours recommended, ranging between 20 to 40 hours.
Why Pro Bono Work?
From a young age, my mom taught our family that giving back is part of what people who live in society do. My Jewish faith encourages me to give back without expectation of a reward or recognition. We live by the principle of leaving the world a better place than how we found it. I recognize that I am very fortunate and I like to give back to those who are experiencing things that I have never had to experience, whether it is the circumstances facing them in their legal matters or in the fact that without a donation of services, they will have to proceed in a sophisticated and convoluted case, with a layman’s understanding of the law and the best strategy for advancement of their interests.
I became a lawyer in 2006, and started doing pro bono work that very year. Before that, in law school, I provided legal aid as a Marshall-Brennan fellow. I received course credit for volunteering rather than attending a traditional law school course. For nine months, I taught Constitutional Law to high school students in the inner city of DC. In my final law school year, I worked in a legal clinic that provided pro bono assistance under the supervision of instructors who were licensed attorneys.
The Pro Bono Work I Do Now
Most of my pro bono work is generated from the Victim Rights Law Center and Lewis and Clark Small Business Legal Clinic. I also work with groups that raise awareness and advocate for the victims of human trafficking in Oregon and around the world, and obtain pro bono client referrals from my work with these groups. I also provide free legal advice to a non-profit that assists female human trafficking victims.
Every year, I have the privilege of helping refugees apply for permanent residency on Catholic Charities’ Refugee Adjustment Day. For an hour or two, lawyers that spend the majority of their time on their primary practice areas, provide one legal service to the refugees. The lawyers spend an hour or two with a family, getting to know them and filling out the paperwork so that they are in the best position to be approved for permanent residency.
A Passion For Pro Bono
I care about the law and representing people in need of legal services. I believe what drives pro bono lawyers like myself is being able to help the people who need us. We need to take paying clients, helping people out of dilemmas we are passionate about is important to us. I am moved to help human trafficking victims, women who have been sexually assaulted, and other underrepresented groups.