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Bar News - September 20, 2013

Promoting Pro Bono


Steve Scudder to receive 2013 Bruce E. Friedman Pro Bono Award next month at UNH Law

From his home base in Concord, Steve Scudder criss-crosses the country, consulting with bar associations and other organizations on improving their efforts to provide legal assistance to the poor. In communities large or small, programs tech-savvy or old-school, successful pro bono programs share one common factor.

“What I see as I travel around the country is that culture is everything,” he said.

Nothing is more important to the success of a pro bono program than the local culture among legal professionals.

“We have a culture here, for whatever reason, that is special, in our belief that the Pro Bono program is an essential part of the practice of law,” Scudder said. “From a national perspective, New Hampshire… is one of the leading bars in terms of the overall commitment of its members and leadership to the Pro Bono program.”

The idea that pro bono is an integral part of law practice is part of professional life at law firms around the state, but this culture of caring and community has to start in law school. The University of New Hampshire School of Law, formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center, has a long history of emphasizing to its students that they will practice law in a community, not a vacuum.

Bruce E. Friedman
A major force behind that tradition was Bruce Friedman, the dedicated and dynamic late professor after whom the Bruce E. Friedman Pro Bono Award was named last year. Scudder, a Concord resident who serves as general counsel to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, has been named the 2013 winner of the award, an honor he says is “beyond words.”

Scudder, a native of Omaha, Neb., was a student in Friedman’s family and housing law clinic in the early 1980s. “It was more than just an academic experience,” he said during a recent interview at his home. “It was an opportunity for students, with great supervision, to work at solving real-life problems… It isn’t just, ‘This person is poor,’ but how did they get there? Understanding the culture of poverty and the lives our clients were experiencing, for me, was an important part of what Bruce was able to teach us.”

“It’s very much an honor to get recognized by my alma mater, or I guess my double alma mater,” Scudder continued, “and to get an award in Bruce’s name is something that I’m going to treasure.”

“Double alma mater” because the award is a joint effort by the law school and the NH Bar Association, and Scudder was director of the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program for 10 years, starting in 1984. At that time, Scudder said, the Pro Bono Referral Program was already well-established and garnering national attention. Part of his charge as director was to unite the Bar’s full-fee, reduced-fee and Pro Bono programs with a single intake process.

“At the time, that was very unique and I was really pleased with how that integration happened,” he recalls.

Scudder also was instrumental in the development of Pro Bono’s Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project, which works with crisis shelters across the state to connect volunteer lawyers with victims of domestic abuse who are seeking emergency restraining orders.

The program “encapsulates what I think every pro bono program should be trying to do,” Scudder said. “It’s a holistic approach that involves outside agencies and focuses on a particular need that people have. It just really works.”

In his role at the ABA, Scudder and the committee he works with strongly advocate mandatory pro bono reporting among lawyers – something discussed in New Hampshire. He also promotes medical-legal partnerships, which involve “clinicians working with lawyers to identify legal problems that, when solved, will alleviate medical problems.”

Scudder further explained that these problems often deal with environmental hazards, in a rental unit, say, that cause health issues.

“It exposes lawyers to what’s happening in their communities, and you really see the health impacts of what’s happening to the poor.”

What else is next for the pro bono movement nationally? Smart phone apps, Scudder says. “Instead of your Groupon, you’ll get a little notification that says, ‘We have a bankruptcy case, are you interested?’”

Most important, though, is continued engagement in pro bono programs by legal professionals. Asked what he would say to an attorney who had never taken a pro bono case, Scudder said: “Start slow; start small. It’s kind of a try-it-you’ll-like-it experience… The impact that you can have on your community by helping just one person in need can be significant.”

Between his frequent trips to his ABA office in Chicago, the many calls to his iPhone while he’s telecommuting from New Hampshire, and trips to consult with pro bono professionals across the country, Scudder hasn’t had time recently to take on a pro bono case himself, but he hopes to change that soon. In the meantime, his non-legal volunteer work has included serving on the Granite United Way Community Impact Committee, the NH Bar Foundation Board, and the Concord Food Co-Op Board, of which he is a former president.

Scudder will be presented with the 2013 Bruce E. Friedman Pro Bono Award during a ceremony at UNH Law on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as part of the state’s celebration of Pro Bono Month.

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