Lend a “Learned Hand” – Check Yes and Volunteer for a Pro Bono Matter
by Rodney G. Snow
Judge Learned Hand was well known as a preeminent jurist and legal philosopher. He served on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He has been quoted by the Supreme Court more often than any other judge. Judge Hand was an advocate for counsel for the underprivileged. In a speech to the New York Legal Aid Society in 1951, Judge Hand stated, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shall not ration justice.”
The Honorable Carolyn B. McHugh, Presiding Judge of the Utah Court of Appeals, reported last month at the leadership breakfast for “and Justice for all” that poverty is on the rise in Utah, with an increase between 2008 and 2010 of over 20%.
Utah Legal Services (ULS) fields, on average, 170 calls a day, of which thirty-three need attention for domestic violence, eighteen for disability issues, and fifteen for eviction. Overall, 23,000 cases last year were screened by a staff of twenty-four lawyers. Due to budget cuts for the Legal Services Corporation, ULS has had to reduce its staff. Last year Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake provided representation, advice and limited services to 10,334 clients. ULS provided representation for 10,414 low-income Utahns. ULS contracted for 334 hours of attorney time in rural areas and fifty-two volunteer attorneys provided 2328 hours of pro bono service last year.
Judge McHugh further reported 67.5% of low-income households in Utah will face a civil legal need this year, and only 13% of these people will be assisted by a lawyer. The Presiding Judge stated, “shockingly, 87% of this population’s legal needs will be unmet.”
As you know, the caption over the United States Supreme Court is “Equal Justice Under the Law.”
“Equal Justice Under the Law” is not merely a caption on the façade of the Supreme Court building; it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists…it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.
Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, Jr.
In July of last year, the Bar Commission created a committee to study ways of better meeting the unmet legal requirements of many of our citizens who are in dire need of legal assistance but cannot afford an attorney. The Committee is co-chaired by Robert Rice of Ray Quinney & Nebeker, Professor James Backman of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, and Sue Crismon, an attorney with ULS. This committee includes judges, the Deputy Clerk of the United States District Court for the District of Utah, the State District Court Administrator, and several prominent attorneys from government and the private sector.
The Pro Bono Committee has proposed, and the Bar Commission has preliminarily approved, with some modifications, a program successfully used in several of our sister states. In the survey recently completed by 52% of you, we learned that over 70% of our Bar is engaged in pro bono work on a weekly basis. This is commendable and demonstrates that the Utah Bar takes its pro bono obligations seriously. The voluntary, non-mandatory program we hope to implement over the next few months will better organize our pro bono efforts and facilitate the delivery of legal representation to low-income families and individuals. The outline of the program is as follows:
1. When the license applications and renewals are sent out in May and June there will be a “Check Yes” box on the form that will allow you to volunteer to take a pro bono case or matter.
2. The Bar has hired a lawyer as the new Pro Bono Coordinator, Michelle Harvey. Michelle has experience handling pro bono cases and we welcome her to the Bar staff.
3. Michelle and the steady Lincoln Mead will maintain a database of all attorneys who have checked yes and/or volunteered for a pro bono matter or case.
4. Pro bono cases will be collected so that Michelle and others can determine which cases qualify for pro bono assistance pursuant to eligibility guidelines.
5. A Pro Bono Committee will be created in each of our judicial districts which will be co-chaired by a volunteer judge and the Bar Commissioner for that district or another lawyer. We may combine some of the districts. Each district committee will have access to the Bar’s database and the names of the volunteer attorneys in their district.
6. Qualified pro bono cases will be sent to the judicial district where the client resides. Utilizing an efficient, automated matching system, cases will be offered to volunteer attorneys in respective districts. Each district Pro Bono Committee can decide how best to distribute cases. In many instances an e-mail will be sent to the list of volunteers with a brief description of the case, allowing volunteers to select a case, perform conflict checks, and contact clients. The district Pro Bono Committees, with Bar assistance, will also provide training, free CLE for volunteers, and recognize those who have taken cases in some appropriate fashion. We are excited about utilizing Pro Bono Committees at the district level so that pro bono legal services can be customized to suit needs at as local a level as possible.
7. A statewide Pro Bono Commission is also being created: The co-chairs for this Commission are Judge Royal Hansen, the Presiding Judge of the Third District Court, and Judge Michele Christiansen of the Utah Court of Appeals. This Commission will encourage law firms, corporate law departments, and government offices to adopt pro bono policies that will encourage attorneys to volunteer for pro bono service without adverse effects on their compensation or advancement. This Commission will facilitate the organization of the district committees as needed and will help develop means and incentives to encourage support for attorneys who are assisting those who are unable to pay for legal services, but are engaged in adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake. The Commission will also oversee the program and recommend adjustments where appropriate. We anticipate that the Commission will consist of lawyers from large and small law firms, judges, corporate law departments, a ULS representative, law school representatives, a representative from the governor’s office, and government lawyers.
The S.J. Quinney and J. Reuben Clark law schools are committed to the program and will allow students to assist on pro bono cases. Thus, research and drafting assistance will be available to our attorney volunteers. The contribution of our law schools to this program cannot be overstated.
With over 70% of the Bar engaging in pro bono work, it is not surprising that a great deal has already been accomplished. There are far too many organizations offering free, but limited, legal services to recognize in this article. Some examples include:
In 2007, the Southern Utah Bar Association under the guidance of Lowry Snow and Adam Caldwell, established the Southern Utah Community Legal Center (CLC), a facility dedicated to the provision of pro bono assistance in Southern Utah. Dozens of volunteers provide legal services to those in need on a monthly basis. Last year the CLC held forty-eight free clinics. Ninety-five attorneys participated in approximately 380 appointments. While the CLC works with litigants utilizing our courts’ Online Court Assistance Program, they also facilitate the assignment of pro bono cases.
In 2010, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the J. Reuben Clark Law School sponsored the Timpanogos Legal Center. Attorneys and law students work side by side to serve members of the community in need of legal advice and assistance. Hundreds of volunteers have participated. More than 100 BYU law students assist approximately seventy attorneys in client interviews, drafting documents, and preparing for hearings and trials. Professor James Backman, a co-chair of the Bar’s Pro Bono Commission, was a driving force behind the legal center. Professor Backman brings his rich experience and enthusiasm for pro bono work to the Bar’s new program.
The S.J. Quinney College of Law established its “Pro Bono Initiative” (PBI) in 2006. Law students volunteer to work with attorneys on pro bono projects in a variety of areas. The PBI co-runs the: American Indian Legal Clinic, Debtor’s Counseling Legal Clinic, Family Law Clinic, Layton Family Law Clinic, Medical-Legal Clinic, Rainbow Law Clinic, and the Street Law Legal Clinic. All legal clinics are staffed by College of Law volunteer law students and volunteer onsite attorneys. The class of 2011 had a total of 4,585.5 volunteer hours of service in these various clinics. Since the inception of PBI, the total number of pro bono hours provided by law students as of the fall of 2011 was 29,980.25 hours. We have been inspired by the vision of Dean Hiram Chodosh for the delivery of affordable legal services.
Our respective law schools have worked together to provide extraordinary public service to our communities, amounting to millions of dollars of donated time. We thank them and express our appreciation for their commitment to the Bar’s new effort to better organize the delivery of pro bono services to our communities. So much good work goes on quietly, without fanfare or notice, by so many members of our Bar.
Many attorneys are heroes in their own right for pro bono service. Lawyers who have actively engaged in pro bono service have found the work exceptionally rewarding.
David Barlow was only recently sworn in as the new United States Attorney for Utah. A Utah native, David returned from the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin, where he managed dozens of complex cases involving millions of dollars. Yet, David reports his most satisfying experiences were representation of victims of domestic violence. His pro bono work earned him the Domestic Violence League Clinic’s Lawyer of the Year in 1999.
Last year, Tony Kaye, Steve Burt, Matthew Moncur, and Quinton Stephens, all of Ballard Spahr, donated 280 hours on a predatory lending case resulting in a successful settlement. They received the Pro Bono Attorney of the Year award for their dedicated service. Receiving the Law Firm Pro Bono Award last year was Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC for contributing hundreds of hours each year on pro bono cases for clients who otherwise would likely go unrepresented. And the Senior Pro Bono Attorney award went to Carolyn Morrow who had been working an average of twenty-five hours a week the past three years on cases others would not consider. She demonstrated a determination that leveled the playing field and brought justice to many of the almost homeless. These remarkable attorneys are continuing to provide pro bono assistance to low-income people who have a need.
In 2008, Alan Sullivan and Chris Martinez of the firm of Snell & Wilmer, along with Jensie Anderson of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, filed an action on behalf of Debra Brown pursuant to the “Determination of Factual Innocence Act,” which allows courts to review a conviction based on newly discovered evidence which may demonstrate innocence. Debra Brown had been convicted of aggravated murder in 1995 and was serving a prison sentence. In January and February of last year, Alan and Chris tried the case to Judge DiReda in the Second District Court. Investigators, court reporters, and experts generously donated their time to the preparation of this case. On May 2, 2011, the Judge issued a 47-page opinion finding Debra Brown innocent, vacating her conviction and releasing her from prison. Alan reports, “I don’t have to tell you how rewarding pro bono work can be.” The case is on appeal. Alan and “Deb” have become good friends and Alan has great admiration for her.
The vast majority of pro bono cases will not involve the time described above. And you will have the option of turning a case down if the timing is not right for you. The Bar’s new pro bono program is simply a reorganization and hopefully revitalization of our efforts. It starts with the “Check Yes” box on the Bar license application. The program will greatly facilitate the delivery of worthy and qualified pro bono cases to those who have volunteered. This program is working well in several other states. Thank you for checking yes when you receive your Bar license application this summer, and thank you for the pro bono service you are already providing.
Certainly, life as a lawyer is a bit more complex today than it was a century ago. The ever-increasing pressures of the legal marketplace, the need to bill hours, to market to clients, and to attend to the bottom line, have made fulfilling the responsibilities of community service quite difficult. But public service marks the difference between a business and a profession. While a business can afford to focus solely on profits, a profession cannot. It must devote itself first to the community it is responsible to serve. I can imagine no greater duty than fulfilling this obligation. And I can imagine no greater pleasure.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 78 Or. L. Rev. 385, 391 (1999). Remarks by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a speech delivered to the University of Oregon School of Law in 1999.