The following is the monthly message from Tom Methvin who is well into his term as state bar president. Tom is doing a very good job as head of the bar association and he has made providing legal services to the poor a priority.
Pro Bono Service Fulfills Moral And Professional Responsibilities
Many times during the past few months, I have used this space to share information about the State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP). I’ve presented you with information about Access to Justice, and funding for Legal Services Alabama. This column has been filled with facts, figures and statistics about the number of poor in the state who desperately need our services. This month, I want to move away from the cold hard facts a little bit, and tell you why I chose to emphasize the importance of free legal services for my year as Bar President.
The decision to perform pro bono work is different for every lawyer. What is truly unique about the VLP is that we are the only ones who can do what we do. We have a monopoly on the practice of law. If we do not help the poor with legal problems, who will? Because of our position in society, we must help. To whom much is given, much is required.
It’s true that participation in the VLP is one way we can fulfill our professional responsibility to make legal counsel available to the poor. But very rarely is this kind of obligation going to spur someone to meaningful action. If you’re just going through the motions to check off a box, it is doubtful pro bono work will really become a part of your life.
I truly believe that pro bono work makes a difference, not only in the life of the client, but in the life of the lawyer. Several times since taking office in July, you have heard me talk about “the least of these,” when talking about VLP service.
The words “the least of these” doesn’t mean that the people are of little worth. It means that these are people of little means, the forgotten of society. They do not have the resources to help themselves. These are the people we are reaching through our Volunteer Lawyers Program. We might help a family being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous landlord or dishonest mortgage company. Our client may be a hopeless woman, trying to escape an abusive spouse to protect her children, or someone who paid to have car repair work done that was never done.
Some lawyers look at pro bono work with a certain amount of hesitation. They worry that participation in the Volunteer Lawyers Program will take them outside their comfort zone. This is true, it can. It reminds you of the frightening daily realities so many people face. It is good for us as lawyers to see this. It can certainly make us feel good about helping these people.
It is my sincere hope that you will take the step to help. I believe you will learn that by giving of yourself and your unique abilities, you can give so much more than just legal advice. Your service provides peace of mind and a sense of hope, and an answer where before there was none.
I challenge you to go beyond obligation and find out what Volunteer Lawyer service can mean to you. If you are not already a member of the VLP, please join. For more information, or to sign up online, visit www.alabar.org.
State Bar President
February 1, 2010
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