Pandemic Spurs Pro Bono Service Growth In 2020

The Financial Planning Association was a major player in pro bono services in 2020, a year that led to unprecedented growth. The FPA provided legal aid to nearly 8,000 individuals in need in 2020, which represents a 7 percent increase from the preceding year. Nearly 1,000 lawyers gave away approximately 14,750 hours of pro bono time to offer financial advice and legal support to members of the community.

Many of these services were offered virtually because of the constrictions placed on the lawyers by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in government regulations that prevented many lawyers from meeting with potential pro bono clients in person.

Unfortunately, not every pro bono case means a win in court.

Honorable mentions go to a group of law firms in Los Angeles. Last month, they filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Superior Court to request a temporary stop to eviction hearings during the pandemic. The legal basis was sound: A CDC-mandated eviction moratorium is still in place all across the country because of the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, so the need for eviction hearings is currently moot. But the legal request was worded to request these hearings cease until COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency.

But Orange County Superior Court Judge William Claster said, “I read that, and I thought, ‘Wow, that may be years.’”

The pro bono law firms said that clients could not socially distance in courtrooms, which is unfair to those who have already been adversely affected by the economic ramifications of the virus. Many have already lost jobs, businesses, or loved ones — and now the LA Superior Court system is asking them to appear for in-person hearings, putting them at even greater risk? It seemed unfair and unlawful, but the judge disagreed.

Claster added, “How does the injunction ever end? You’re asking me to — these are my words — shut down a significant portion of the superior court system.”