Anyone who seriously thinks voluntary contributions will make up for recent federal cutbacks in legal services here hasn't seen a local bar committee's report on its fund-raising efforts this year.
The federal cuts meant $708,000 in lost legal services funds for local programs. But the total raised by a blue-ribbon committee headed by Covington's John W. Douglas, a former D.C. Bar president, and Jones, Day's Erwin N. Griswold, former solicitor general, was only about $290,000. (That doesn't include the value of increased efforts by some firms to take on more pro bono cases.)
In a recent report to D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Theodore R. Newman Jr., the two lawyers concluded that while the private bar can take up some of the slack, it can't make up the entire deficit created by the federal cutbacks.
In addition, after a year of urgent appeals by the committee and by local programs themselves, the final count is 39 firms and seven individuals contributing to legal services. That is out of a total of 342 firms who were asked to contribute.
Worse yet, the local Legal Aid Society, traditionally funded through private, not public, contributions, also is having trouble raising funds and recently laid off three lawyers in this year of voluntarism.
The list of contributors shows that what is happening is that the firms who always contributed have simply dug deeper or expanded their pro bono work. The number of contributors has scarcely gone up.
A court in El Paso, Tex., recently approved a move by the bar there to make lawyers take free cases for low-income people or face losing their licenses to practice. The odds of a similar action here, legal scene watchers say, are the same as those for the proverbial snowball.