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Bar News - October 21, 2015

President’s Perspective: Pope Francis & Pro Bono: Why We Should Give Back


The details of Pope Francis’s travel to the United States and the Holy Father’s massive popularity were hot topics at my house in late September. With one young child in Catholic elementary school and another just matriculated to middle school, there was much anticipation and excitement for the pope’s visit, which also commanded the attention of world leaders, the national press and the hundreds of thousands of faithful who attended his masses in Washington DC, New York City, and Philadelphia.

In talking with my boys, we discussed the pope’s near-universal popularity and his humble message of service. Recall his visit to 1 million young people in Rio, millions more in the Philippines and another million in the countryside of Ecuador. And here, nearly a million crowded Center City, Philadelphia to attend his final open-air mass. Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, and has risen to the highest ranks of Church leadership. He uses his office to shine a light on those most in need among us. By word and deed, he uses his office and special prayerful connection to expose the suffering experienced by so many who struggle to survive the oppression of abject poverty, extreme violence and the overwhelming lack of dignity accorded to human life across the globe.

His simple creed: “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my whole heart.”

The Holy Father has intense personal connections with those he serves. He is not content to preside from the Vatican. Instead, he is of the Church. He kisses babies, touches the cheeks of all, and even embraces the men and women he meets. On his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis sought out the infirm, impoverished and incarcerated to bring a message of hope and human dignity. His ministry is hands-on and he is unafraid to grapple with the grit of the human condition.

Regardless of our individual religious beliefs, this pope inspires us. He reminds me of the reason so many of us decided to go to law school in the first place – to help people. We wanted then to use our talents, our education and our profession as a means to do good, not just to do well financially. There is no better time than now to recommit to that purpose.

The last week in October is the national Pro Bono Week. Here in New Hampshire, we celebrate October as Pro Bono Month – a chance to showcase the difference that pro bono lawyers make in our system of justice, our state and local communities and, most of all, in the lives of the clients served.

Our New Hampshire Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program is noted nationally for handling contested cases at nearly six times the national average. Our volunteer bar members donate thousands of hours of free legal service valued at nearly $2 million annually. Just last year, NHBA members provided pro bono legal assistance to some 3,400 low-income adults and children. Yet, we know the need for pro bono legal services is even greater, and there is more demand now than ever before for help.

This month, the New Hampshire Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program will be hard at work running pro bono clinics to reach those most in need of legal assistance. Volunteer attorneys will be hosting trainings for other New Hampshire lawyers who want to offer help. The program’s efforts this month will span divorce and family law matters, domestic violence, housing issues and evictions, bankruptcy matters and the special needs of New Hampshire’s veterans.

To get involved, you can email Ginny Martin, director of the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program, for more information.

Pro bono lawyers here in New Hampshire and nationally are using their talents and training to help those in need. In this Pro Bono Month, I hope you will be inspired to take a pro bono case. If you cannot, consider making a financial donation to the pro bono program, the New Hampshire Bar Foundation or the Campaign for Legal Services. Now is the time. It is what Pope Francis would do. I have no doubt it is what so many New Hampshire lawyers do and will continue to do. Working together, as a profession, we can make a difference for so many in need.

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