When Bob Bertisch and I were asked to do an article on pro bono, we were initially unsure what to write about. The importance of pro bono or why you should take a pro bono case in the new year? There are a lot of those articles. (People really need your help and it feels good to do. And it can also be a great way to gain experience in a new area or even get a trial). If you’re not already working on a pro bono case, hopefully this article will pique your interest by showing you that there are plenty of opportunities available, no matter your practice area.
Every year the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County conducts The Annual Campaign for Equal Justice in order to ensure that our community’s most fragile and vulnerable residents are provided with those essential legal services to secure their most basic needs for safety, housing, healthcare and economic security. Through this campaign lawyers are recruited to handle a wide variety of pro bono cases for eligible clients. Attorneys can sign up to be on the Legal Aid Society’s Pro Bono Panel through the website at www.legalaidpbc.org.
The Florida Bar Foundation recently launched Florida Pro Bono Matters, an interactive website (www.floridaprobonomatters.org) that’s designed to make finding pro bono cases faster and easier for attorneys. The site contains cases posted by most major pro bono legal service providers across the state. Attorneys can scroll through easy to read case descriptions or use the search function to filter cases by location or area of law. When you find the right one, e-submit a very short interest form and the posting organization will contact you with more information and put you in touch with the client. Attorneys can “share” interesting cases by email or text to a colleague or friend, and also have the option of requesting a mentor to guide them with the case.
For corporate or in-house counsel, the authors of this article recently started a new project called the 20 for 20 Legal Aid Corporate Challenge. The project’s goal is to enlist 20 companies in Palm Beach County to commit each of their legal staff members to provide 20 or more pro bono hours annually. Participants can choose from among several pro bono opportunities, including: expulsion hearings (representing children recommended for expulsion at quasi-judicial school board hearings); guardian advocates (representing parents or guardians of young, mentally disabled adults); domestic violence hearings (representing domestic violence victims at TRO hearings); immigration clinics (assistance at clinics for undocumented parents to ensure child care needs are met in the event the parent is deported); and the Non-Profit Legal Assistance Project (assisting nonprofit agencies with specific legal needs or issues).
For federal court practitioners, the Southern District of Florida has a list of pro bono cases available on its website, http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/. Attorneys can choose from a variety of cases, including assisting individuals with ADA, FLSA or copyright infringement claims, claims for social security benefits, or assisting inmates with excessive use of force claims. Visit the site, and click on the tab Attorney Resources, and scroll down to Volunteer Opportunities and Pro Bono Assistance for a list of available cases.
There are additional pro bono opportunities as well, such as the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which provides assistance to active duty service members and their families. For a list of pro bono cases, visit https://www.militaryprobono.org/. Pro bono Disaster Relief efforts are also still ongoing, and include a legal aid hotline, clinics and assistance with insurance and FEMA denials. Jason Lazarus