Occupy Wall Street Reminds Lawyers To Find A Cause, Make A Difference With Pro Bono Work

­­­­When was the last time you offered free legal advice or voluntary legal aid without pressure or obligation from your law firm?

Surely, lawyers are among the best at offering service gratis. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to gage the true number of helping hands in America. Statistics vary when it comes to calculating the percentage of lawyers who perform pro bono work each year.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) conducted a study that showed 73 percent of lawyers did pro bono work in 2008. Yet, states like Pennsylvania and Nevada report that only about 10 to 40 percent of their lawyers, respectively, perform periodic pro bono work.

“There is great unmet need in the community for pro bono service,” Allen Snyder, retired litigator, said to The National Law Journal.

Snyder uses his retirement to offer his pro bono legal services in Washington, D.C. And, he’s not alone.

James Springer also uses his retirement for good after leaving Dickstein Shapiro in 2004. One of the firm’s top antitrust lawyers, Springer now works part time as an attorney with the D.C. Legal Aid Society.

“Social Security law is as complicated as any subject matter I’ve dealt with,” Springer said to The National Law Journal.

“What I didn’t expect is how frustrating it is and how long it takes to get things done. We are dealing with bureaucrats who have impossible workloads.”

These days, federal regulations are only becoming more and more complicated. In a recession, some people find it hard to catch up or hang on. Springer helps clients keep their heads above bureaucratically-suffocating water.

“I deal with real people,” Springer said to The National Law Journal.

“I’ve never been hugged by a client until I came to work for Legal Aid. I do this for myself as much as I do this for other people.”

Even lawyers need a hug once in awhile. So where are they?

Nothing is worse than a destitute and desperate civilian going into a court case on a pro se basis. There is a lot to lose considering today’s economy.

Some causes attract more attention than others. The National Lawyers Guild has a table in Zuccotti Park to help demonstrators in the Occupy Wall Street Movement with legal advice. Wearing bright green ball caps, the legal aids are visible amid the crowd.

The aim is to decrease police violence and demonstrator transgressions.

On Friday, volunteers offered a “Know Your Rights” training session. Advice that’s easy to assemble for an expert but difficult to know as a pedestrian.

So what can your law firm do to benefit the community? How can you—the individual—serve before retirement?

The benefit to law firms that conduct pro bono services is increased visibility in dark economic times, in addition to well-deserved praise and attention from a myriad of potential new clients.

Pro bono work is frequently tout as win-win. It’s true.

Back in Zuccotti Park, N.L.G. volunteer Moira Meltzer-Cohen, a law student at the City University of New York School of Law, tells the Downtown Express. “Whatever happens [in the protest], there’s a neutral witness.”

Day and night, green hats are taking names and numbers of people in trouble.

“We document it, but we don’t get involved.”

Although, in the case of pro bono work, involvement is just what the nation is looking for.

Find your cause, make a difference.

-WB

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