“Ask not what you can do for pro bono, but what pro bono can do for you.”
BoyarMiller is proud of the pro bono work its attorneys perform each year, from helping an indigent homeowner avoid a wrongful foreclosure to assisting a non-profit with its corporate legal work so it can better serve the Houston-area homeless. In celebration of the 2018 Houston Bar Association’s Pro Bono Week and the Pro Bono Month of October, BoyarMiller encourages others to get involved in supporting the pro bono cause.
Why pro bono?
According to the State Bar of Texas, 6 million Texans qualify for legal aid, but the Texas legal community meets only 20% of that need. The preamble to the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct State:
A lawyer should render public interest legal service. The basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer.
Intangible benefits abound as well. Trial court judges appreciate advocates who step in to assist pro se litigants who have no frame of reference for how a legal proceeding is conducted or what information the trial court must consider. Appellate judges benefit from a pro bono advocate who understands the limited scope of appellate review and can assist in framing the legal issues properly. Judges remember attorneys who are willing to dedicate their time to the pro bono cause, both to help someone in need and to make the judicial process run smoothly.
Your pro bono hours also support an application to the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas, which recognizes law students, paralegals, and attorneys “who have far exceeded the State Bar’s aspirational pro bono goal in their efforts to address the vast unmet legal needs of the poor.” The benefits of membership include a certificate signed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the State Bar President, along with access to free continuing legal education and recognition at the State Bar Annual meeting.
Take the leap! Even if you don’t practice in the areas where pro bono assistance is most often needed—family law, homeowners association disputes, probate, immigration, etc.—there are free resources available online and through many local and state-wide legal assistance organizations. The Texas State Bar also offers pro bono mentoring, and you can partner with another private practitioner or in-house counsel who is more familiar with the subject matter at-hand.
Take advantage of opportunities to defray the cost of pro bono representation through filing-fee and cost waivers, and explore the ability to recover attorney’s fees for your client or volunteer organization depending on the claim and statute.
There are unlimited ways to contribute. In Harris County, the Houston Bar Association Litigation Section and Houston Trial Lawyers’ Association offer a pro se trial counsel program to provide counsel to pro se litigants on the eve of trial. In the greater Gulf Coast region and state-wide, the Houston Bar Association and State Bar Appellate Sections co-facilitate the process of connecting applicants in need of pro bono appellate assistance and advocates who want to help.
Consider a one-time event, like the Houston Bar Association Saturday Legal Advice Clinics or Houston Volunteer Lawyers Legal Lines. Or, adopt an entire matter through Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Civil Liberties Union, or Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts—an organization designed to assist with non-profit formation and arts-related representation. If all else fails, donate to others or organizations leading the pro bono charge.
In the words of United State Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “If you are a true professional, you will use your degree to help make things a little better for people. You get a satisfaction you will never get turning a buck.”
The Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas agrees: “Most important, perhaps, is the intangible benefit of knowing that you have provided access to the legal system for people who otherwise would have been denied justice.”