Bar News - September 19, 2008
Many Avenues to Pro Bono Service
By: Matthew J. Fossum
|Matthew J. Fossum
No doubt many, if not most, members of the bar are aware that effective January 1, 2008, rule 6.1 of the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct, covering pro bono service, was amended. The amended rule emphasizes the responsibility of "every lawyer" to provide pro bono service, including those attorneys traditionally falling outside such a rule, such as government attorneys and judges. The rule also states that each attorney should aspire to provide at least 30 hours of service annually, and describes the types of service that qualify for fulfilling that goal.
As "new lawyers," meaning those new to the profession or the New Hampshire Bar, some may believe that they do not know enough, or are not experienced enough, to provide the kinds of service that would qualify for credit under the rule. There are, however, avenues available for even the newest or least experienced lawyers to provide beneficial pro bono service.
For those interested in providing direct service, the Bar Association’s Pro Bono Referral Program offers "first tier" opportunities for attorneys to provide pro bono service to low-income people, particularly in eviction proceedings and domestic violence restraining order hearings. For newer attorneys, mentors and training programs are available to help those who choose to provide assistance in these, as well as other kinds of cases. Additionally, participating in referral sessions, during which peers call on peers to accept pro bono cases like these, allows attorneys of any experience level to help pro bono services reach those in need.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that while one may generally believe direct service to those of limited means to be the "best" way to provide pro bono service – a not unreasonable belief given the hierarchy outlined in the rule – the rule permits and encourages other forms of service. Participating on a bar committee, for example, would help improve the law and legal system in New Hampshire and thus provide a type of pro bono service sought by the rule.
While some committees require a particular knowledge base or focus area, others do not, and finding a committee that fits your interests and which is appropriate to your level of experience could be good way to provide pro bono service, as well as to improve the law. Not to be overlooked is that serving on a committee provides occasion to meet other members of the bar in a professional setting – a networking opportunity of potentially great value to those new to practice, as well as to experienced attorneys who later join the New Hampshire bar.
There are, of course, other activities for which even those of limited experience would be qualified. For example, the Bar Association promotes Law Related Education programs such as Constitution Day, the "We the People" program, and the Lawyer & Judge in Every School program. In each of these programs attorneys help New Hampshire students, from elementary through high school, understand the Constitution, the laws, and the legal profession. For instance, the Lawyer & Judge in Every School program, which for 2009 is encouraging commemorations of Abraham Lincoln and his experience as a lawyer, provides opportunities for attorneys to visit New Hampshire schools and instruct students in various aspects of the law and legal system and its intersection with their lives.
In many cases, programs like these do not require extensive experience, or a great deal of time, which makes them well-suited to newer attorneys who often lack both. Information about these, and other opportunities, such as the research and development of training materials for the bar, is readily available on the Bar Association’s website, or by contacting the Bar Association directly.
While the noted activities are advertised or promoted by the Bar Association, there may be other opportunities like them that, although they are less well known, are no less deserving of attention. It is, perhaps, worthwhile to inquire of the more senior attorneys in your office whether they know of other appropriate pro bono opportunities beyond those listed here. In the end, what is most important to remember is that no matter how little experience a lawyer might have (or might believe she or he has), there are meaningful ways to provide pro bono service and thereby give back to the community and the profession.
Matthew J. Fossum is a law clerk at the NH Supreme Court. He has been a member of the Bar since 2004 and serves on the New Lawyers’ Committee.