Sections of the following article appeared in "Pro Bono Digest", New York Law Journal, January 2, 2004
"As lawyers, we are very privileged members of society. We are well-educated, articulate and know how to get things done in an increasingly complex world.
Most important of all, we have been granted a monopoly in terms of exclusive access to the courts to represent clients, and to practice law. With this grant of authority comes a commensurate responsibility. We have a professional obligation to perform pro bono work on behalf of poor people who otherwise will have no access to the courts, or to other legal services. Robert A. Katzmann, editor of The Law Firm and the Public Good (The Brookings Institution/The Governance Institute, Washington, D.C., 1995), who serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, expresses the point cogently. After noting that the state grants lawyers a monopoly on legal services and that unauthorized practice is forbidden, he writes:
[T}he very reason the state conferred such a monopoly was so that justice could best be served - a notion that surely means that even those unable to pay...can expect legal representation. A lawyer's duty to serve those unable to pay is thus not an act of charity or benevolence, but rather one of professional responsibility, reinforced by the terms under which the state has granted to the profession effective control of the legal system.
Lawyers have a professional obligation to do pro bono work and law firms have an obligation to encourage their lawyers to do such work. This duty is reflected in our Code of Professional Responsibility: "A lawyer has an obligation to render public interest and pro bono legal service." (Ethical Consideration 2-25.) It is reflected in the Administrative Board of the Courts resolution providing, in part: "Lawyers are strongly encouraged to provide pro bono legal services to benefit poor persons." (A copy of this resolution accompanies the biennial New York State attorney registration form sent to every lawyer in the state.
And we have an ethical obligation to do pro bono work. The ethical obligation is central to the teachings of all religions and secular philosophies. To cite two passages from the Bible: "Justice, justice shall ye pursue all the days of your life." (Deuteronomy). "He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deeds." (Proverbs). And from the Koran, "Indeed! Allah commands justice, kindness...."
It is found in the values imparted to us by our parents; by our finest teachers; by the people we admire most in life; in the great works of literature.
It is found in the inscriptions on our court buildings: "Equal Justice Under Law." (United States Supreme Court.) "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government." (Supreme Court, New York County). "Justice is denied no one....Equal and exact justice to all men of whatever state or persuasion." (Criminal Court, New York County).
It is demanded by the needs of society. In our country, 33 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. (An annual income of $9,359 for an individual and $18,244 for a family of four.) Of this number, 13.4 million Americans have incomes of less than half the official poverty level. In our city, one in five city residents live below the federal poverty line, meaning that almost 1.7 million New Yorkers live in poverty. Many of these New Yorkers have compelling civil legal needs.
Through pro bono, lawyers have the opportunity to help others and to enrich our own lives. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Frank M. Coffin, in his essay in The Law Firm and the Public Good, highlights the benefits from performing such work:
[P]ro bono service emerges as a beacon or opportunity; opportunity to work one-on-one with human clients, to gather new experiences of interest to others...to generate new pride in legal work...[and for younger lawyers] the early assumption of greater responsibilities, thus stimulating confidence, the ability to organize time, and maturity.
This law firm takes its Pro bono obligations seriously.
If you've got a legal problem, if you can demonstrate that you can't afford a lawyer, if you have exhausted the infrastructure of funded services, and if the matter is important, then, on an availability basis, this law firm will look at the facts of your case and decide if it can represent you on a Pro bono basis. Obviously, not every case is accepted.
For Pro Bono requests, please click on the "Click to Email" buttons on this site and send an email with the Subject Line: Pro Bono Request.