Happy New Year, members! Let’s talk about resolutions! What do you have planned for 2020? For example, is a new diet or physical fitness program in order? Or, perhaps, a donation to a worthy cause? But maybe your health is in a good place or your finances are tight at the moment. If you are struggling with ideas for a New Year’s Resolution, how about some inspiration?
If you are a sports fan, you may have noticed recently that college football Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow from LSU used his acceptance speech to highlight poverty. Among other things, he said, “… I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County (Ohio) that go home to not a lot of food on the table…. You guys can be up here too.” That speech inspired more than $150,000 in donations to a food pantry in his Ohio hometown. Or maybe you recall how Nathan Bain’s buzzer beater on November 26, 2019, took Stephen F. Austin over No. 1 ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and then led to over $125,000 in donations to a GoFundMe campaign to benefit Bain’s family from Freeport who lost everything in Hurricane Dorian.
You may not have the platform that these star athletes had, but most of us have time. One goal that all Greensboro Bar Association lawyers should incorporate into their business plan for 2020 is a commitment to Pro Bono Service. Rule 6.1 of our Rules of Professional Conduct states quite clearly that “every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” Some lawyers already work in a field that is, by definition, public service. And others already give generously of their time to community or civic organizations. Despite these leaders, our disadvantaged community continues to be underserved with legal services. And in case you haven’t re-visited Rule 6.1 recently, the rule sets an aspiration for all lawyers to render at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year. Are you aspiring to this goal?
One goal that all Greensboro Bar Association lawyers should incorporate into their business plan for 2020 is a commitment to Pro Bono Service.
The Greensboro Bar Association believed this service goal was so important that we created the Herb Falk Society to recognize members who exceed the aspirational goal of 50 hours, and instead log at least 75 hours of Rule 6.1 pro bono legal services annually. And while we recognize several of our colleagues for meeting this goal each year, I wonder why we don’t have more. I suspect it’s not that we don’t have attorneys meeting this goal. Instead, I believe some choose not to seek this recognition. Regardless of the reason, I encourage all to seek membership in our Herb Falk Society because like Joe Burrow and Nathan Bain, sometimes gaining a recognition highlights a worthy cause or a community need in a way that inspires others to do the same.
Where does one go to identify pro bono legal service opportunities? Our local legal aid office regularly refers cases to the private bar. We also have “Ask a Lawyer” days where lawyers can answer call-in questions without compensation. The ABA and the NC Bar Foundation combined to create “Free Legal Answers,” where bar members can answer legal questions in the comfort of their home or office with little obligation beyond the initial assistance. Go to nc.freelegalanswers.org to find out more about this simple but beneficial program. The Greensboro Women’s Resource Center regularly needs lawyers to field calls on their hotline. And there are many more. We even attempt to include pro bono service opportunities in our newsletter each month. If you are aware of any such community needs, please contact Manisha Patel who is heading up our effort to keep the bar aware of these opportunities.
Understanding that the need for lawyers to provide pro bono legal services is significant and that the opportunities to do so are plentiful, I hope you will resolve to continue providing pro bono legal services in 2020, or use this year to begin a commitment to the aspirational goal of Rule 6.1. If you do, you might find that the life that is changed by that experience is your own.