American lawyers are not forced into providing pro bono legal work for exigent individuals who can’t afford help. But it’s recommended by the Bar association for a number of reasons. It doesn’t always take much time to help out, but it can make a tremendous difference in the life of the client. And building relationships is a big part of keeping any big law firm afloat.
That’s why the American Bar Association describes it both as a professional and legal obligation to the community: “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”
Unfortunately not all lawyers seem to agree. Alpine Legal Services (ALS), a Glenwood Springs legal aid office, is having trouble finding enough volunteers to run a hotline service called “Ask a Lawyer.” The worst part? The service is only provided on Wednesday night. It’s not a huge commitment.
Noone Law Firm attorney Claire Noone said, “Anyone can call. These conversations allow people who feel silly asking questions or don’t know if they have rights or don’t have the money [for a lawyer] to have the access, time and attention of an attorney.”
A retired lawyer from Jones Gregg said, “Pro bono work is important for every law firm. When it’s simple work over the phone, why not encourage your law firm’s associates and partners to do it? The work builds relationships within the community, and that can lead to more clients down the road. It’s a win-win for both the clients receiving free legal expertise and the firm providing it.”
Noone said she wants to keep the hotline operational in order to smash common legal misconceptions. According to her, you’re not supposed to need a lawyer for many legal obligations in life such as divorce. You can also file a lawsuit in small claims court without the need for legal representation. It’s all about “empowering” people, she said. Sometimes all it takes is a small push to let someone know they can do some of the work themselves.
Noone said there was a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic: “In April, 2020, with the help of an Americorps volunteer, we switched to phones.”
In other words, these same services used to be provided in person. But some people are anxious about meeting a lawyer — especially if they don’t have money or don’t know if their case has validity. By opening the hotline, these people were the first to benefit. Those without access to transportation or who are too busy with work might also make the call, which might last less than fifteen minutes.
Only nine attorneys volunteered to keep the hotline running. That means some people still have to wait on hold to tell their story. Noone wants even more access.
University of Denver Sturm College of Law Associate Dean Alexi Freeman said, “Pro bono work can also be emotionally and mentally challenging, because you’re often supporting individuals, groups, or causes that are in real crisis.”