Lawyers Render Service. That is the motto of the Alabama State Bar and has been since Fred Gray was president of the Alabama State Bar in 2001 and continues as a lasting legacy of what lawyers do.
October has been declared Pro Bono Month by Governor Bentley. This is in connection with the National ABA Day of Service (http://www.probono.net/celebrateprobono/) which began seven years ago as an effort by the American Bar Association to spotlight the pro bono efforts of lawyers around the country. The American Bar Association has designated October 25-31, 2015 as the National Celebration of Pro Bono. This year, the ABA is holding a new event, And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service. Not to be outdone, Alabama has declared the entire month of October “Pro Bono Month”.
Some may wonder what Pro Bono is. Pro Bono is a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment or at a reduced fee as a public service. Unlike traditional volunteerism, it is service that uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.
Lawyers donate more time and service to others than any other profession. Many people wonder why there is a need for lawyers to provide pro bono service. Alabama is a great example of why lawyers need to provide pro bono service. The need for legal aid in Alabama is dire. Unlike the criminal defense system, the constitutional guarantee of funding for low-income Alabamians who need civil legal assistance has not yet been met. The consequences of a lack of access to justice are devastating for the poor and weaken a democratic society as a whole. In 2013, more than 422,000 households experienced more than 733,000 legal issues with low-income households only having had legal assistance for approximately 16 percent of these legal problems. Alabama has the lowest funding for civil legal aid of any state in the Country. It’s even lower than Puerto Rico.
These problems may be minor or major. Typical pro bono cases involve simple divorces, housing issues, foreclosure prevention, consumer issues, and elder issues.
There are many reasons to serve others, whether you are providing Pro Bono Service as a lawyer or volunteering in your community. You can serve to:
- Discover abundance. Shift your focus from “me” to “we”. If you start evaluating others by what you can offer to them and not what they can do for you, your perspective shifts radically and you realize how much you can contribute to society.
- Express gratitude. We all have blessings in our lives. It is a matter of what we choose to focus on.
- Transform yourself. When you serve others, the change occurs in you. Serving others changes you and focuses you on others instead of yourself.
- Pay it Forward. There’s a giant movement underway to “pay it forward”. Serving allows you to be part of that movement with no monetary investment. Even if you don’t have an extra $10 to buy the person’s groceries behind you in line, you can pay it forward by carrying their groceries to the car for them.
The Alabama statewide pro bono celebration is scheduled for October 2015. Sponsored by the Alabama State Bar, the celebration is a coordinated statewide effort to showcase the great difference that pro bono lawyers make to the state, its system of justice, its communities and most of all to the clients they service. The month is also dedicated to the quest for more pro bono volunteers to meet the ever-growing legal needs of this country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Although statewide in breadth, this celebration provides an opportunity for local bar and legal associations to collaboratively commemorate the contributions of America’s lawyers and recruit additional volunteers to meet the growing need.
If you’re looking for free legal help, contact Legal Services at 866-456-4995 or http://www.alabamalegalhelp.org/ or contact your Volunteer Lawyers Program:
Birmingham Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program (Jefferson County)
Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program
Montgomery Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Program (Montgomery County)
South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program (Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Clarke counties)
(251) 438-1102 or (855) 997-2857
Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program (all other counties)
If you’re a lawyer and want to volunteer for Pro Bono Service, click here for the enrollment form. https://www.alabar.org/programs-departments/volunteer-lawyer-program/enrollment/form/
If you want to serve others and are not a lawyer, visit www.volunteermatch.org, a website that will match you with volunteer opportunities in your area or based upon your particular interests or talents or ask around in your community, at your local church, or a friend. There are needs that you can meet.