Money Is No Substitute for Pro Bono Service

Saturday, January 7, 2006

The argument that it would be more effective if lawyers donated money, rather than time ["Pro Bono: A Better Alternative," op-ed, Dec. 31], is fundamentally flawed.

Pro bono service -- volunteer legal assistance provided without a fee -- is an essential complement to the work of legal services and public-interest organizations. In 2004, the major law firms that have publicly articulated their commitment to pro bono service through the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center contributed an impressive 3 million hours of legal assistance to those who otherwise would otherwise not have access to legal help.

Josh Sheptow assumes that the legal problems of low-income and disadvantaged clients are less complex than those of corporate clients. But post-conviction capital appeals, the lawsuit successfully brought on behalf of low-income Gulf Coast residents denied benefits by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and similar matters demonstrate that the legal problems of the poor are neither simple nor easy.

An underlying assumption is that lawyers will contribute either their money or their time, but not both. In fact, lawyers who give their time are much more likely to donate money as well to the pro bono organizations with which they work.

The United States provides far less funding per capita for civil legal services to the poor and disadvantaged than any other developed country. Pro bono is not an inefficient response to that dismal reality; undertaken correctly, it is a model private-public partnership that offers hope and justice to those who have been denied them.

-- Esther F. Lardent

Washington

The writer is president of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center.


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