Today marks the beginning of National Pro Bono Week. “Pro bono publico” means for the public good and is usually shortened to “pro bono” (Wikipedia), which is often interpreted to mean “for free”. The term, “pro bono” has specific application to attorneys, and for good reason. While many people volunteer their time for charitable causes, the notion of providing pro bono professional services is uniquely attributable to the legal profession and is deeply ingrained within it..
The principal that attorneys are professionals, different from tradesmen, who have some duty to put aside self-interest and play a critical role in protecting society and providing services for the public good dates back to the beginning of the fledgling American democracy. (Lawyer and Public Service, the Historical Perspectives on Pro Bono Lawyering) The duty of attorneys to provides pro bono services survives today.
The duty of attorneys to give back is written into the national and state ethical codes that govern attorneys. Model Rule 6.1 of the ABA (American Bar Association) states that every attorney should aspire to provide at least fifty (50) hours of service every year without fee and without expectation of a fee. All attorneys have clients who fail to pay for their services, but pro bono means the intentional performance of legal services on behalf of clients without the expectation of payment, not the clients we expect to pay, but do not.
In Illinois, the duty of public service and, more specifically pro bono service, is written into the Preamble to the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct that governs attorneys. The Illinois Bar Association and local bar associations strongly promote pro bono service and recognize attorneys each year who exemplify the professional duty of providing pro bono service. (The ISBA John C. McAndrews Pro Bono Service Award)
The professional duty to perform pro bono services is promoted in every law school. In fact, the ABA Standards and Rules for Approval of Law Schools require that law schools provide pro bono opportunities for students.
The national, state and local bar associations all encourage and promote pro bono services to their members and recognize members who excel at service to the public, including the direct provision of pro bono services.
In our Firm, we take the duty of providing pro bono service seriously. My father, the founding member of the Drendel & Jansons Law Group, was awarded the Kane County Community Service Award in 1995 and the Illinois State Bar Association Community Service Award in 1996 (now known as the The ISBA John C. McAndrews Pro Bono Service Award). Mark D. Brent was nominated by Prairie State Legal Services in 2013 for the Kane County Community Service award, and Roman Seckel was recognized by IllinoisProBono.org as the Illinois pro bono lawyer of the month in December, 2010 for his work with Administer Justice.
Local legal aid organizations provide many opportunities for attorneys to give back to the community by providing pro bono services. Prairie State Legal Services is a partially state and federal funded legal aid organization with offices throughout Illinois. Prairie State has its own staff and staff attorneys, but they could not provide a fraction of the legal services they do without the volunteer help of private attorneys providing those pro bono services.
In Kane County, Illinois, Administer Justice is a faith-based legal aid clinic with an office in Elgin that provides pro bono services in Kane County and DuPage County through staff and volunteer private attorneys. Hesed House has recently begun a legal aid clinic in partnership with Prairie State in Aurora. The Drendel & Jansons Law Group is a sponsor of Annual Banquet for Administer Justice this year that will take place on Thursday October 23rd.
In my experience volunteering for non-profit organizations and non-profit boards, attorneys are well-represented in these volunteer capacities. Beyond the direct provision of pro bono services to clients, attorneys volunteer time on local municipal, school and other governmental boards; they volunteer in civic and charitable organizations like Lion’s Clubs,
Rotary and many other non-profit organizations. This all stems from the notion that attorneys, as professionals, have a duty to give back.
The notion that attorneys are public servants with a duty to protect the rule of law and to serve society dates much further back than the founding of America. Many people misinterpret Shakespeare’s the famous line, “The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.” People wrongly assume that these words were spoken because lawyers are corrupt and a drain on society. The words are from Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene II, Line 73 (in case you are keeping score). They are spoken by Dick the Butcher, a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who planned to upset law and order so that he could become king. Upsetting law and order would require killing all the lawyers, because lawyers are the protectors of the rule of law.
This week, being National Pro Bono Week, is a time to recognize the contributions of attorneys to society and the ongoing obligation that attorneys have that is ingrained in the history of the law to give back and provide service to the public, including pro bono services to clients without expectation of a fee. Though no every attorney takes this duty to heart, it is part of the fabric of the profession that is instilled from the beginning and promoted at every level. Many, many attorneys do take this professional obligation to heart, and our society is the better for it.Kevin G. Drendel Drendel & Jansons Law Group 111 Flinn Street Batavia, IL 60510 (630) 406-5440 www.batavialaw.com firstname.lastname@example.org