During the recent annual Red Mass for those in the legal profession in the Tampa Bay area, Bishop Robert Lynch challenged the lawyers present to become “more other-centered and less self-centered” by providing free legal service, known in the legal world as pro bono service, for someone who cannot afford an attorney.
He told the lawyers that they “are the keys to the ultimate success of the framers of the Constitution’s ideal of equal justice. Justice, as you know, is not guaranteed to all who seek to enter the halls of justice, which you frequently call home.
“Many face court actions without representation and often lose their cases. Today I ask if you will consider taking just one [pro bono] case a year, at least.”
That simple challenge echoes the theme of the Florida Supreme Court’s pro bono ONE campaign: One client, one attorney, one promise.
State Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince explains that “help really comes one person at a time.”
And the ONE campaign’s website points out what that could mean: “Imagine the impact we could make if every attorney in the state of Florida helped one pro bono client. That single contribution could drastically reduce the enormous backlog of cases and significantly improve access to justice for all Florida residents.”
Pro bono opportunities exist in a wide variety of both subjects and time commitments.
There is some project or program to fit everyone’s preference. See the links below for suggestions.
Every lawyer admitted to practice in Florida takes an oath — makes a promise — to “never reject the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.” Maybe you haven’t exactly lived up to that promise, your word, recently. With the coming of a new year and the list of resolutions that goes with that turn of the page in the calendar, Florida lawyers should add the word “ONE” to their lists. And then take at least one pro bono case in 2014.
For a list of pro bono opportunities in the Tampa Bay area, go here: http://bit.ly/1cQAiGI.
For other counties, go here: www.floridaprobono.org/opps guide/.
And for a short primer on what is and what is not pro bono service, go here: http:// flabizlaw.org/images/pdf/pro bonoprimer.pdf.
Catherine Peek McEwen is a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa. She is the chairwoman of the 13th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee. Circuit pro bono committees are mandated by the Florida Supreme Court to promote pro bono service.