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Bar News - September 20, 2013

Ten Pro Bono Myths Dispelled

While many attorneys take on pro bono cases on their own or through the NH Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program, others believe they simply cannot afford to provide representation on a volunteer basis. Of course, there are times when this is true for everyone, but attorneys who haven’t worked with the Pro Bono program may have misconceptions about how Pro Bono works and what it entails. Here, we will try to dispel some of the most common myths about getting involved with the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program.

With national Pro Bono Week coming up next month (Oct. 20-26), and New Hampshire celebrating Pro Bono Month throughout October, now is the perfect time to explore how you can become involved with the Pro Bono program.

“Just have one open case,” says Ginny Martin, director of the NHBA Pro Bono program and legal services department. “If everybody did that, it would make such a huge difference.”

1 You’ll end up with a nightmare family law case.

Pro Bono refers all kinds of cases. The program helps people in tax controversies with the IRS through its Low-Income Taxpayer Project. The Foreclosure Relief Project refers cases of people who are trying desperately to remain in their homes. The Pro Bono Referral Program also refers eviction defense cases, wills, basic estate planning, criminal record annulment, and debt collection, as well as domestic violence cases through its Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project.

2 You won’t be covered.

Pro Bono provides primary malpractice insurance to all volunteer attorneys.

3 Your case, your problem.

When you accept a Pro Bono case, you won’t be left to manage it by yourself. In addition to screening cases, the Pro Bono Referral Program staff organizes mentoring relationships and provides ongoing support and training. If you find yourself with a particularly difficult client or case, tell the staff and they can help.

4 Pro Bono clients are ungrateful, demanding and depressing.

National research by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service has found that the majority of attorneys who provide legal advice and representation to people of limited means feel a sense of satisfaction.

Clients served through the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program are surveyed about the services they receive, and most report enthusiastic appreciation for the legal help and a positive relationship with the attorney who provided it.

5 You can’t help Pro Bono unless you take a case.

There are lots of ways to work with Pro Bono. You can volunteer with other lawyers to conduct referral marathons over the phone. You can also join a panel for a Pro Bono CLE, or mentor newer attorneys working on pro bono cases.

6 Pro Bono ‘assigns’ you a case, and then you’re stuck with it.

Not true. Pro Bono consults with potential volunteers about whether they feel the case is a good match with their skills and experience.

7 Cases through Pro Bono always require full representation.

Providing unbundled legal services or limited-scope representation is a great way to assist clients with limited means without taking on the responsibility of full representation.

8 Pro bono work won’t help my practice.

There are a few ways that working with Pro Bono can enhance your practice. First, several attorneys on Pro Bono panels have reported that Pro Bono cases led to referrals for paying clients. Some attorneys have even found employment through their involvement with Pro Bono.

Additionally, Pro Bono work can provide valuable experience in an area of practice that you are considering as a future focus. Want to try estate planning? Take on a basic case from Pro Bono.

9 The Pro Bono Referral Program is funded solely through NH Bar member dues.

Pro Bono currently has 17 funding sources, including 13 grants. Pro Bono staff members apply for and manage these grants, all of which have different reporting requirements, but which make the work of the program possible. These funding sources have enabled the Pro Bono program to develop targeted intiatives to assist clients with specific problems.

1o Inactive attorneys can’t take Pro Bono cases.

Inactive and retired attorneys can accept Pro Bono cases, and many have reported a great sense of fulfillment as they give back to the profession and their communities.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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