At a time when legal departments are tightening their purse-strings it is uplifting, and arguably necessary, to hear stories of practitioners beating the odds--and a sour economy--to serve the underserved. On August 3, 2009 the American Bar Association will honor recipients of this year's ABA Pro Bono Awards. The awards are open to individuals, law firms, law schools, government offices, in-house counsels, and other institutions.
The recipients include individuals Hope Olsson from New York and Gordon P. Erspamer from San Francisco. Both have demonstrated long-term commitment to addressing a particular need. Olsson, who completed her law degree in her forties, has gone on to counsel over three hundred clients in finance, bankruptcy, and other debt-related issues through a debt clinic that she was instrumental in establishing. Erspamer served the veteran community for over thirty years in pro bono capacity, including filing a lawsuit against the government for failing to care for veterans who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another recipient, the Federal Government Pro Bono Program, directed by the Department of Justice, will be honored for its achievement of developing, supporting, and expanding the government's efforts in the pro bono arena which 36 federal agencies are now involved in.
In a large-scale collaboration resulting in the coordination of legal professionals in 30 cities logging in over 34,000 hours on behalf of Holocaust survivors, the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network will be honored as a recipient for its innovation in engaging nearly 3000 attorneys in pro bono service. Rounding out the list of recipients is Weil, Gotshal & Manges, New York which instituted a creative pro bono policy that close to tripled its firm's pro bono hours--including service to Human Rights Watch, the International Criminal Court, and the firm's involvement with Pro Bono Net's interactive online portal.
Notably absent from the recipient list is representation from the In-House sector. Where are our service-minded, legal-department, non-hourly-billing attorneys? As the honorees demonstrate, there is no one definition of outstanding pro bono service nor a single cause to address--the needs are many, and the methods open to innovation and creativity.
The award is just a pat on the back, we know that you don't need a badge to have honor and you don't need an award to serve, so go ahead...answer the call and bring pro bono service in-house.