The American Bar Association is encouraging everyone to join in the celebration of their eighth annual National Pro Bono Week, October 23-29, 2016. The event was created in 2009 to commemorate the efforts of volunteer lawyers and other social workers advocating for low-income citizens, and encourage the creation of events throughout the week to improve community justice efforts.
Pro Bono, Latin for "for the public good," is the act of providing professional services for the sake of societal improvement instead of profit. The concept began with the Ad Council in 1942, with marketers working to spread important, and now iconic, messages for nonprofits, such as, "Only you can prevent forest fires." By the 1960's, pro bono lawyers were providing an essential service largely for low-income minorities, whose sufferings of discrimination could now be heard and combated. The combination of countless efforts caused a shift in the courtroom: justice was finally able to speak louder than money. Now, pro bono service is considered every lawyer's civic duty, one of never-ceasing importance and respect. It is a brand of volunteerism all its own, one of intense effort and expenditure of talent, deserving of annual recognition.
Every year, one can expect nearly every state in America to present dozens of initiatives in recognition of Pro Bono Week. Examples include day-long clinics of volunteer legal advice and counseling for the homeless, lawyers receiving domestic abuse support training, and fundraisers for various charities. There are also community gatherings and receptions to come together and recognize the impact that volunteer lawyers have had on a region's citizens and well-being, ranging from happy hours at pubs to luncheons at recreation centers.
Pro bono efforts have a life-changing impact, not only on those receiving support, but on those giving it as well. JUST Story is a platform sponsored by the Alabama State Bar for lawyers to share their most memorable acts of social work. One particularly impacting story is of LaVeeda Morgan, an Alabama lawyer who helped a family find the support to rebuild their home after Hurricane Katrina, finding a "second family" in the process. Another story, sponsored by OneJustice, is told by Diane Roth, executive director of Riverside Legal Aid, whose volunteers helped a three-year-old car crash survivor receive the proper guardianship and medical care she needed.
An essential motivation for Pro Bono Week is recruitment: showing lawyers the positive impact in volunteerism and encouraging them to do as much pro bono work as possible. Although our nation has come a long way in making low-status voices heard in the courtroom, it is still an uphill battle. In California alone, 6.7 million people are eligible for legal aid. Proper representation for all people is a right, one that is not conceivable without a large and increasing number of lawyers doing their part and providing free counsel.
We at Giva applaud pro bono lawyers and the communities that celebrate and encourage their efforts. Visit the ABA Pro Bono Week website or internationally at http://www.probonoweek.org/ for more information on how to participate in October.