Can A Business Receive Pro Bono Legal Aid?

Pro bono legal services are as important in business as they are in law, but not everyone knows that it’s entirely possible to find and use them. We usually assume — wrongly — that pro bono aid is for individuals living below the poverty line. But small businesses can also find pro bono services. It shouldn’t be that surprising! We value the contributions of small businesses in our country much more than we value those of larger businesses or rich individuals. 

Where can a business find these services? The options available depend on the services required.

The Small Business Association (SMA) has offices in many small and large communities and can help provide free legal help for a business contracts dispute. The SMA is also useful when a business owner isn’t sure if they need a lawyer or has a simple question that needs answering quickly. 

Business owners can also approach the local chamber of commerce, believe it or not! Sometimes, the chamber will provide free legal services to business owners who need questions answered or aren’t sure what benefits are available for small business owners living in a specific region of the United States.

Other options are more generalized. For example, business owners can use a search engine to find local non-profits. Although these organizations are often viewed as “anti-business,” they sometimes provide business law clinics or workshops to help new business owners get a headstart. Some even provide mentoring services!

Check the National Association of Secretaries of State to find information on forming or registering a business in a specific jurisdiction. Many would-be entrepreneurs have no idea where to start. This is where they should start. The Secretary of State’s website will provide invaluable information on local, state, and federal laws where applicable. 

Small business owners can find similar information by researching the Federal Trade Commission. The organization’s goal is to prevent consumers from being taken advantage of by over-zealous business owners, and the best way to accomplish that goal is by providing those business owners with high-quality information they can use. Sometimes this involves free legal help navigating the more complicated laws.

Small business owners often have trouble filing taxes for the first time. The best place to find information on how to do it is the IRS itself, of course, but the IRS also provides small business owners with legal recommendations about various laws both new and old. The Department of Justice (DOJ) provides similar information to those who seek it out.

Many pro bono services are offered by students of law. While they might not seem like the best option for business owners who need quality legal help, students can sometimes be more willing to spend extra time making sure you get it right — because they’re not accustomed to being paid anyway. Small business owners might also try the SuperLawyers website for free legal help when affording a lawyer is impossible. Most will understand that new business owners don’t yet know how much money they will make in the first year — or if they will make any at all.

Do Ukrainian Refugees Require Pro Bono Legal Support?

Around two million refugees have fled Ukraine to seek asylum in neighboring countries like Poland. President Biden has pledged to bring at least 100,000 of them into the United States — but can probably expect blowback from conservative groups who believe our country already supports far too many immigrants, regardless of whether or not they carry their weight here at home. That’s why these refugees need legal support.

The Weiss law firm put out a statement recently: “Our lawyers worked courageously to protect the Jews of Europe during World War II by changing American policy towards immigration and arranging for tens of thousands of European Jews to secure safe refuge in America. Today, we are closely following the dire situation in Ukraine, and are mobilizing our pro bono resources to work with relief organizations and legal services providers to help those desperately in need.”

The firm pledged to match attorney donations up to $1500 to fund the effort.

Numerous firms closed locations in Russia due to the ongoing conflict with Ukraine, which could complicate their ability to provide legal services to those in need, and also to coordinate relief funds. 

What actions can firms take without going pro bono? First and foremost, stop providing services to Russian citizens, businesses and organizations whether they have been sanctioned or not. Provide a professional exit where possible when services are already being provided. 

Looking for pro bono options? Offer incentives to lawyers who offer their own time to providing legal assistance to Ukrainian citizens. Set up call centers and hotlines or support those already operational. Ask associates for small donations when they cannot give time. More than anything, share relevant information with other firms trying to fight the same battles — because you’re all in this together. Support first responders on the front lines, and be sure they have the legal assistance they need to keep doing their jobs.

Should A Broke Attorney Still Provide Pro Bono Work?

Many attorneys who are only starting to build a new practice or find one to call home will wonder how pro bono work can possibly be added to the daily routine. After all, why should a struggling attorney waste time helping someone else? Because that’s what it’s all about, most people would answer! When you’re struggling yourself, you understand how much a sense of community can help. It’s about providing support to those in need, knowing that they will probably help you out when you need them in turn.

There are a few arguments why, yes, broke attorneys should still provide pro bono work — with a few obvious exceptions. First, pro bono work can grant struggling attorneys more notoriety. If you’re struggling to acquire new clients, then any notoriety is a good thing. Second, pro bono work can provide you with the right motivation to help yourself out too. Maybe you just need the right inspiration to find that creative spark, so to speak.

When might it not make sense for you to avoid pro bono work when you’re struggling to pay the bills yourself? Simply, when your time would be better spent working on paying cases — then that’s what you should be doing. But we’re only human. It can be difficult to put every waking moment into turning a failing practice into a successful one. A break from business as usual might be the best option.

What should you keep in mind when doing pro bono work when you can’t pay the bills? Keep an eye on your payments. When you’ve received a notice from a creditors’ rights attorney, it might be time to take a step back and reassess how you can juggle tasks — even if it means neglecting pro bono cases for the time being.

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor was quoted several years ago as saying she believes in “forced labor” when it comes to pro bono work, and that all lawyers should be required to provide this service at least some of the time.

Critics were quick to point out that the burden of such a “tax” would fall to younger lawyers who had yet to find their footing in the world of law. Would it make more sense to force pro bono on lawyers who are already well-off? It’s a discussion that some insiders have been having for years, and everyone’s opinion is different. 

For now, most lawyers have the option of providing free services or not — regardless of how strenuous those services are when provided. For example, simply taking calls from would-be clients can be considered pro bono in the right context. And how difficult is it to provide those free consultations, really?

Although we don’t support forced labor, we do believe lawyers have an obligation to the poor — even if those lawyers fall in the same demographic. It doesn’t always cost money to give away time to those in need.

Orlando Attorney Named “Pro Bono Champion”

At a time when many lawyers are failing to meet the call to action imposed by the BAR, those who go above and beyond to fulfill pro bono parameters are to be commended. Orlando attorney Carlos Leach was recently nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award for his service to the community. He specializes in employment law and has served hundreds of clients over the years — 360 to be exact.

Those who awarded him dug into the records to find the number. Leach said, “I had no idea it was that many people. I’ve just been doing it for years.” He added, “Many times we speak to people over the phone and you can hear the despair in their voice. You can hear that they need help and so if we can provide advice to somebody or take the case and bring them some type of relief then it’s definitely worth it.”

That’s what many attorneys fail to realize. Sometimes quality pro bono work doesn’t occur in person or even in the courtroom. It’s all about providing potential clients with the right information for their particular cases — and often, that’s something that can be done over the phone.

Manager of Pro Bono Services for CLSMF Lena Hopkins said, “All of our clients are low income, they cannot afford an attorney and what we do makes a difference. It makes all of the difference in the world. The fact that [Leach] has longevity and the fact that he has helped over 360 clients with legal issues. He has helped them maintain income, he’s collected unpaid wages, he’s done the work in employment discrimination.”

Leach said, “I see it as an obligation. If it’s the type of case we take, and we can take the case, we’ll certainly do it.”

Although the BAR suggests that lawyers provide hours of pro bono work to clients each year, lawyers are under no legal obligation to actually perform that community service.

Disability Discrimination And Why Pro Bono Is In High Demand

For whatever reason, many members of American society frown down upon those who live with disabilities. Follow around someone who lives daily life from a wheelchair, and you’ll see first-hand what they are forced to endure every day. There are few courtesies. But one thing we can do to help these individuals out is provide free legal services — especially when they don’t always have the money to pay for those services without help.

Those living with disabilities face a life of day to day ironies. For example, much of the discrimination faced by the disabled is due to the fact that some of them receive help from the government. The stigma is strong. But because of that discrimination, a disabled person might very well require legal help — that is unaffordable without help from the government or pro bono work. And so the cycle continues.

A disability discrimination lawyer must understand the need for emotional and financial support for a client who is living in a world of mistrust and anger. Providing that kind of help isn’t easy — and that’s exactly why firms should provide a helping hand free of charge. Not everyone requires pro bono help. But this demographic does!

Charter Senior Living, LLC is a family-owned establishment in Naperville, Illinois. It provides senior care in the region. A recent lawsuit filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that federal law was violated when a caregiver was terminated based on disability. 

According to court documents, the caregiver passed a physical exam and performed required duties for the first few weeks without incident. Eventually, the Charter Senior Living director learned that the caregiver had nerve damage in one hand. At this point a new physical examination was requested and conducted. The second exam found that the caretaker met the physical requirements of the job — but still failed to pass the individual because of nerve damage. The facility fired the caretaker.

A complaint was filed with the EEOC, which sued the facility.

EEOC Trial Attorney Nedra Campbell said, “An employer should never rely on stereotypes about a medical condition when making employment decisions. Charter Senior Living should be commended for agreeing to a consent decree and committing to ensure employees are treated in accordance with the ADA.”

The consent decree only resulted after the settlement occurred, though. Charter Senior Living was forced to pay $31,750 in addition to other relief to settle the lawsuit.

Cases like these are common, but not every disabled individual knows that they have the option to file a claim with a third party like the EEOC. And when they know they can’t afford a lawyer, they’re less likely to go to one for a consult — even though a consult would reveal other options that are available. Pro bono work could solve this problem, but not enough lawyers are opting to perform these activities. That needs to change.

How To Help Afghan Refugees And Asylum Seekers

Months after the war in Afghanistan was officially ended by the Biden Administration, the foreign country is still in chaos. The Taliban say they have a policy of non-retaliation, but reports say that many sympathizers and individuals who aided America have been hunted and killed. Now, thousands of Afghans are still fighting for safe passage into America — only to hit a brick wall. 

According to Rob Thelen, who volunteers with Team America Relief, these refugees and asylum seekers are simply the first wave. We could see generations of Afghans who wish to leave the country. Thelen said, “This is not going away, this is going to be with us for generations.”

Before Team America Relief was even underway, Americans who wanted to help Afghans leave the country created an email account to acquire more information about their plight. According to Thelen, “The Gmail address started to get bounced back and forth in Afghanistan and we were getting thousands of emails per hour from people trying to get help. Some were translators, some were women lawyers, and some were former employees.”

Since Team America Relief was put into place, the group has supported the departure of over 500 people. 

Unfortunately, tens of thousands are seeking legal immigration into the United States — and the intake is painfully slow. Of the 28,000 applications for humanitarian parole, only 135 have been approved so far. 

But it’s not just about helping these individuals and families leave the country. It’s about helping them in a way that protects their personal data from outsiders who might want to know what they’re up to — like the Taliban.

What Team America Relief really needs is pro bono legal expertise. 

Thelen offered, “If a law firm wants to do 400 pro bono cases, we can give them a list and if that list changes, it’s updated automatically. If the FBI wants to run preemptive background checks, we can give them a view too.”

Pro Bono Legal Hotline Looking For Help?

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.”

Pro Bono Lawyers Win Massive $26 Million Case

Lawyers Karen Dunn of Paul, Wiess, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Robert Kaplan of Kaplan, Hecker & Fink, and Alan Levine represented nine clients who were injured during a white supremacist rally in 2017. Not only did they do it for free, but they also won $26 million on behalf of those clients.

According to Karen Dunn, the four-week trial showcased “a bubble of hate and violence.”

Kaplan is Jewish. She decided to take the case after reviewing the facts — and seeing with her own eyes what the protestors were capable of thinking and doing. The conservative extremists carried torches and weapons while they marched. They chanted. Cameras caught them voicing slogans like “Jews will not replace us.”

During protests such as these, counter-protestors usually take the streets opposite to voice their opposition to the insidious supremacist ideas. One man, James Alex Fields Jr., drove his vehicle into these counter-protestors, killing one and injuring many others. The pro bono lawyers served only nine, but there were dozens injured by this man. Fields is behind bars for good, thanks to the work of state prosecutors.

Dunn acknowledged the obstacles facing such a case. She said, “External threats have been a constant from the very moment we filed this case…We had maybe six lawyers at the time. The idea that we would be able to do a case of that size was obviously insane. It immediately occurred to me that we needed help.”

She began her own firm, but looked to past colleagues for legal aid. She received it almost immediately. Their lawsuit was also supported and funded by the nonprofit Integrity First for America. Everyone assumed the case would go to trial — and it did.

They planned to argue that the defendants in the case, some of the protestors, were guilty of conspiracy to commit violence — and that the protestors’ right to free speech does not protect from the legal repercussions of committing such a crime. And the team won their case.

What Is Enforceable Pro Bono Obligation And Who Is Subject?

Many people have used the pandemic to band together in a show of community support. Teachers have gone from the classroom to learning how to teach remotely and then back to the classroom. Lawyers and judges have begun to do business online and in a virtual space. Healthcare providers have been most at risk but reap the fewest rewards. Everyone has had to make these changes in order to keep the country moving in the right direction.

Most state bar organizations ask law firms to commit a specific number of hours to pro bono work. Others enforce it. And that “pro bono obligation” is what we’re here to discuss. While we hope lawyers would commit their time voluntarily, some must be compelled. The reason? Not everyone can afford legal help, and public attorneys don’t always provide the same caliber of work that private attorneys do. 

Usually, obligation precedes bar certification. A 2012 ruling made New York the first state to implement such a rule. 

Presiding Judge Jonathan Lippman said, “If pro bono is a core value of our profession, and it is — and if we aspire for all practicing attorneys to devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service, and they should — these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, when one first aspires to be a member of the profession.”

That law hasn’t yet been applied to most practicing lawyers. 

What’s the driving idea of pro bono obligation? It’s similar to what it means to provide jury duty, which is considered not just a civil service — but a civil “duty.”  We don’t do it because it’s convenient, personally beneficial, or because we want to. We perform the service because it’s a duty required of us by the community. That doesn’t change that providing such a service can be very rewarding and provide individuals with a great deal of fulfillment. Whether or not lawyers or those seeking to pass the bar exam perform pro bono work willingly, then, is not so important.

An anonymous family lawyer from the Matteucci Family Law firm said, “Many legal clients in need of pro bono services arise in our neck of the woods, New Mexico. Imagine you’re in a toxic relationship with an abusive partner who wants to take the kids. She’s got money and influence, but she beats them or does drugs. You know they need to be removed, but you can’t afford the same kind of legal help she can. That’s where pro bono work comes in. We make this work — because that’s why we’re here.”

Visit website here to see what the law firm is all about.

The pandemic might be inspiring change in the way we all feel about pro bono obligation — and whether or not that obligation should be applied only to those seeking to pass the bar, or those who already have succeeded. It’s also worth wondering where these laws are likely to be written first. This might be worth the wait.

Attorney Joseph Bauer Making A Pro Bono Difference

Not every lawyer takes pro bono work seriously. Why should they give their time so freely only to receive little name recognition? But not everyone became a lawyer for fame or fortune. Esteemed attorney Joseph Bauer is one such man. After retiring, Bauer chose to pay a hefty fee in order to procure a foreign attorney license to be inducted into the Indiana Bar. That was before a rule change that rescinded the fee. Now he doesn’t have to dip into his savings.

The Supreme Court admitted Bauer to the Indiana Bar because he “intended to provide legal services free of charge to persons of limited means through a pro bono or other legal service organization eligible for fee waiver.”

And that’s all one needs to practice law under the Indiana Bar.

That doesn’t mean everyone is lining up at once. Only eight applications have been processed since the program’s implementation. The program allows any attorney to apply if they are in good standing and uphold a fine moral character while practicing the law. 

Attorney Asher-Waite Jones said, “I think it’s a fantastic program. There’s almost nothing you can’t do as a pro bono attorney. I think, for me, I went to law school knowing I wanted to be a public interest attorney. I knew that I only wanted to represent clients living in poverty. If someone is already a pro bono attorney, and you want to work with low-income clients, it’s a fantastic way to waive the bar requirement and waive into Indiana on a shorter timeline basis.”

Bauer is just happy to help out the community. 

Attorney Gina Frey put her legal career on hold after becoming pregnant. After moving to Indiana, she decided to use the program to jump back into law. She said, “I didn’t think I could get any legal work, as I had been out of the ‘game,’ so to speak, for a number of years…I sent my resume to their office manager and their general counsel reached out to me and told me about (pro bono publico).”