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Objective: To discuss with Chapter members the possibility of undertaking by Chapter members of a legal service project.
Chapter Chair: Our next agenda item is a discussion of possible service projects which our Chapter could undertake. As you know, one of the purposes of the JRCLS is to promote the values of its namesake, President J. Reuben Clark, one of which values is public service. I have been thinking for sometime now about how our Chapter could undertake a service project to be of service to our community. I would like to discuss some suggestions for possible projects that would be of interest to Chapter members.
Chapter Member: I truly believe in public service, but I am just too busy to commit time to yet another project. Between the time demands of my practice and my Church calling, I have little time to spend with my family. In fact, I am feeling guilty about having taken time to attend our Chapter meeting today.
Chapter Chair: Boy, can I ever relate to your time pressures! Pro bono work is certainly a personal choice and needs to be carefully weighed against other time demands. I offer to you some advice I recently read in an article encouraging lawyers to participate in pro bono activities. In response to the question, "Who has time for pro bono work?" Susan Hackett, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the American Corporate Counsel Association offered the following advice:
"No one. So let's get past it. You make time for what's important."
I admit that my attitude is cavalier since most of us really don't have an extra minute in our days, so let's talk about how to overcome some time hurdles. How do you currently find a balance between your day job, your home life, and your need for personal enrichment? Whether you are pleased with your current balance or not, the answer lies in setting aside times when you can concentrate on each, and then keeping your commitment to that schedule.
So seek out pro bono projects that offer you set time commitments and can be scheduled into your calendar; there are any number of projects that can be structured to meet your needs. Consider, for instance, going to the offices of a non-profit group you have volunteered to assist and acting as their general counsel one day every two months. Or maybe you might prefer a project that allows you to work on a weekday once a month from 7 to 9:00 p.m. at a walk-in clinic.
If that's not enough time for the group you're serving, don't back away. Team up with colleagues to staff out a schedule for your clinic duties or a specific matter. That way, if an emergency arises, other team members can temporarily cover your "shift."
Chapter Member: I, too, truly believe that all lawyers should engage in volunteer activities, which contribute back to their communities. I think that my time commitment to my Church calling is exactly that – a contribution back to the community. I do not want or need the satisfaction of any other type of public service.
Chapter Chair: I would never denigrate the importance of Church callings, but I think we should look to the example of our Church leaders in reaching out beyond the scope of our Church community. President Hinckley, in particular, has encouraged us all to get more involved in our communities. As I have thought about this request, I reflect on one of Elder Oaks' practice experiences. I think we might be short changing our own professional satisfaction and contributions if we do not find some time to engage in pro bono activities. Elder Oakes said:
"I surely do not want to be understood as saying that you shouldn't represent a criminal defendant. I need to tell you that the client who gave me the greatest personal satisfaction was a young Polish boy whom the Supreme Court of Illinois appointed me to represent in his appeal to that court. I lost the appeal seven to nothing and acknowledged the result as just. But I had a great deal more satisfaction in helping that young man have due process of law than I had representing some prestigious, but sometimes quite underhanded, corporate clients. I'm not trying to make this advice easy by telling you who your clients should be. But I am suggesting that there is a large world of causes out there and that while one little piece of representation doesn't make one of those causes, a succession of representations of a particular character can add significantly to a mosaic and amount to a pattern. I am asking you to think about that, and I'm also asking you to think about what kind of rewards you want from the practice of law. Ask yourself whether those rewards amount to the reward of getting or the rewards of serving and becoming".
Chapter Member: I would like to do something, but I do not feel that my expertise as a securities lawyer provides me with any professional skills to be of assistance in the standard types of community pro bono legal projects. In fact, it would be malpractice on my part to work professionally outside of the securities area.
Chapter Chair: I think that the skills we learn professionally, regardless of our specific areas of legal expertise, are transportable to a multitude of other legal situations. Of course, depending on the project, you might have to learn a new area of the law and/or some new procedural rules. But don't let this deter you. Most of the organized pro bono programs provide orientation for participating lawyers and provide supervising lawyers who can guide you through assigned cases. As a collateral benefit, much of this additional training may qualify for MCLE credit. Also, many pro bono needs require your general lawyer skills (e.g., counseling, negotiating mediation, etc.), not any specific substantive expertise.
Chapter Member: I'm ready. I think we should all volunteer time to the upcoming Special Olympics. I know that they need a lot of volunteers to prepare the track, run the food concessions and keep track of the participants in each event. This would be really fun and we could involve all of our families also.
Chapter Chair: I think such participation would be fun and would make a valuable contribution to the Special Olympics this year. However, I think we should focus on projects where we can bring to the community the special training and skills that we have developed as practicing lawyers.
Chapter Member: I am already involved in the community's homeless assistance program. I volunteer one night each week to provide legal assistance to the homeless families currently living in our community's homeless shelter. I think that each of you should choose some type of pro bono service, but I do not think that the Chapter as a group needs to take responsibility for a legal service project. The Bar Association does that and we can all choose from among the Bar Association's programs which ones personally suit us best.
Chapter Chair: My congratulations to you for your involvement in the community's homeless assistance program. Perhaps you can share with us some of the matters you are assigned and how you were able to get involved.
Chapter Member: My law firm strongly encourages pro bono service. In fact, we are expected to spend at least 50 hours annually on pro bono. As a firm project, we agreed to provide 10 hours of legal services each week to the homeless assistance program. We work with the homeless in processing unemployment benefits, working through tenant-landlord disputes from previous leases, helping negotiate new rental agreements, and a myriad of other legal issues that confront the homeless. I have found my involvement to be very rewarding personally.
Chapter Chair: Your experience is precisely the type of positive pro bono experience that I would like to make available to all members of the Chapter. I would like to return to my initial question as to whether the Chapter would like to undertake a pro bono activity as a group and, if so, what particular pro bono activity we would be most interested in as a group.