By Joe Mulvey, Rubin & Levin PC
The lack of licensed attorneys willing to assume responsibility for routine family law matters is a universal concern for pro bono legal service providers. Although volunteer programs such as the IndyBar’s Legal Line and Ask A Lawyer events provide general information to direct those with legal needs in the right direction, these independent events do not provide the ongoing legal services often necessary to fully resolve a particular issue.
Although assuming responsibility for a pro bono legal matter is a healthy step forward in commitment from a closed-ended legal advice session, the need is great. There are resources out there to assist you, and the benefit provided can be tremendous. Here are some frequently-asserted reasons for not taking a pro bono family law case, and some responses.
- I don’t know anything about family law and I’m worried about making a mistake. Basic family law CLEs provide the fundamental information, forms and resources for taking on a family law case. The Heartland Pro Bono Council, for example, offered a two hour CLE in late February of this year, providing draft divorce petitions, engagement letters, client questionnaires and an abundance of literature on various low-income family law programs that can be offered to pro bono clients. They are offering a similar CLE in July. The trainings also establish points of contact to experienced family law attorneys who can help provide guidance when more sophisticated issues arise. Importantly, most service providers tailor their referrals to match the experience level of the volunteering attorney—i.e., uncontested, no-asset, no children divorces can be assigned to family law rookies.
- I have too much work to do and don’t have time to take on a pro bono case. This is an obvious concern with respect to both personal time and billable hours (working on a pro bono case will encroach on one or the other), but it is a manageable one. From a billable hour perspective, most firms permit attorneys to count at least a portion of their pro bono work towards billable hour goals. Although taking on a pro bono case may mean a few extra hours in the office, pro bono veterans find that helping someone truly in need of legal representation can offset the weariness generated by the daily grind of handling cases in your typical practice area.
- I don’t even know where to begin the process of taking on a pro bono case. The IndyBar receives more referrals for family law pro bono matters than it has volunteers to handle—you can email Caren Chopp at firstname.lastname@example.org to request or discuss a potential referral. The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and the Heartland Pro Bono Council (www.nclegalclinic.org/Volunteer.aspx and www.heartlandprobono.org ) have a similar need.
We are excited that the IndyBar Ask A Lawyer event on April 8th provided a record number of 705 people with free legal advice, and we implore those individuals who selflessly donated their time to that and other similar events to consider taking a step forward in the continuum of pro bono service.