By Marisol Cruz
Each year during the last week of October a National Celebration of pro bono is held (October 22 – 28, 2023). It’s a time to look upon our professional responsibility and ethical commitments as attorneys. As lawyers (and law firm owners) it’s our responsibility to represent the interests of our clients. As part of that, we should always think about access to justice for those individuals with limited means and/or the inability to pay for legal services, often in areas of law that come up in their regular day-to-day lives.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees free legal help for those individuals who are charged with a crime and cannot afford a lawyer. But what about other areas of law (and life)? How will signing a contract affect the individual? Is the individual making a big purchase that requires reviewing many documents? Maybe the individual finds themselves in such dire financial circumstances that bankruptcy is a process that could assist them, yet they cannot afford to pay for legal representation? These are circumstances where business lawyers have the ability to make a difference, one individual at a time.
In 1992 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida lawyers should aspire to do twenty hours of pro bono work per year and codified this recommendation in Rule 4-6.1 (a) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. Although offering pro bono legal services is not mandatory, each year when we pay our annual Bar Dues, we are required to report whether we have provided pro bono legal services or contributed financially to a legal aid organization. This begs the question – what can we, as individual lawyers and law firm owners, do to provide greater access to justice in our respective areas of law?
Let’s be honest: it’s difficult for any busy attorney to put providing pro bono services at the top of the priority list. Life is hectic, work gets busy, and before we know it another year has passed. How do we change our mindset to ensure that providing pro bono legal services is part of our lawyer/firm life and culture? Each law firm, regardless of size, should have a pro bono policy in place ensuring that the firm is committed to providing pro bono services on a regular and continuing basis. By having a firm policy in place, staying committed to providing pro bono legal services is easier. The Florida Bar Business Law Section even has a Best Practices Guide available for you/the firm to create and implement the pro bono policy, which is available here.
As an attorney, and law firm, you can commit to providing pro bono services by signing the Business Law Section’s Pro Bono Pledge form (available here). The Pledge is simple. You submit your name, email address, and Bar Number, and commit to providing at least 20 hours of pro bono hours. You can read the full details about the Pro Bono Pledge here.
Whether you already provide pro bono services or are committing to do it for the first time, we should each use the National Celebration of pro bono as our annual reminder of what each of us can do to make a difference for low-income individuals. If each member of the Business Law Section committed at least 10 hours of time to offering pro bono services, we could collectively make an enormous impact in the lives of low-income individuals and families. Not only will providing pro bono services strengthen your ties to the community you serve but it is also deeply rewarding and will remind you of what inspired you to become a lawyer.