Lawyers? Working for free?

As a hopeful future attorney, I’ll admit I can’t get terribly outraged at the fees lawyers can sometimes charge for their work. But there are 5.3 million people in Texas that qualify for legal aid – people unable to afford the often high cost of legal services. Less than a quarter of that need is met,  leaving Texas ranked 39th in the nation in per capita legal aid.  As a result, the Texas Bar Association encourages attorneys to donate 50 hours of pro-bono legal services each year. Pro-bono attorneys in Texas do good work, serving as advocates for immigrants, veterans, the impoverished, and other underserved populations.

National Pro-Bono Week is coming next month, and to help spread awareness of pro-bono opportunities the Austin Young Lawyers Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel are co-hosting a pro bono fair to connect Austin-area attorneys with local non-profit organizations. The fair will be held at the Austin Bar Association Offices (816 Congress Ave., Suite 700) at 5:30 PM on Thursday, September 23.

Here’s what Kennon Peterson from AYLA and Geoffrey Brow from ACC had to say about the event:

Is this AYLA’s first pro bono fair?

AYLA has organized community service fairs in the past.  But this is the first time AYLA has organized a fair focused solely on pro-bono legal services.  We decided to focus on pro-bono legal services because there is a great need for these services and, during these tough economic times, a greater supply of lawyers who have the time to work free of charge.

What compelled AYLA to organize the event?  Are members looking for volunteer experiences?

Many AYLA and ACC members are interested in providing pro-bono legal services but are not fully aware of the opportunities that are out there or how to get involved.  We hope that all lawyers who attend the fair will be able to find pro-bono opportunities that match their passion and interests.

What kinds of legal help do nonprofits need? What are the volunteer opportunities?

In the process of organizing this fair, we learned that local nonprofit organizations need a great variety of legal services.  Some organizations need assistance with legal agreements such as leases, employment agreements, and loan agreements.  Other organizations need assistance with legal advocacy in courts and administrative proceedings.  Some of these opportunities are one-time, relatively short engagements, other opportunities can be in duration of a year or more.

Who are the nonprofits attending?

As of now, the following nonprofit organizations are participating in the pro-bono fair:

Association of Corporate Counsel
Advocacy/Alliance for Health Representation
American Gateway
Appleseed
Caritas of Austin
Judge Jenkins Debate
Texas Accountants and Lawyers For the Arts
Texas Access for Justice
Texas C-BAR
Texas Fair Defense Project
Texas Lawyers Care
Texas Young Lawyers Association
Volunteer Legal Service

We are still seeking an organization that focuses on environmental issues.  In addition, we hope that organizations that are not participating this year will let us know if they want to participate in a future, pro-bono fair.

Should people be surprised that lawyers are looking to volunteer their services?

We hope not!  Many Austin lawyers volunteer their services on a regular basis.  The preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct encourages all Texas lawyers to volunteer their services, providing, among other things: “A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance, and should therefore devote professional time and civic influence on their behalf.”

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