The last few years have challenged our system of justice in unique ways. The pandemic as well as recent damaging storms in Louisiana have contributed to a surge in the need for attorneys to offer legal services to those who lack financial resources.
The cause of justice in Louisiana is aided by the work of countless attorneys who donate their time, skills, and talent in what the legal system refers to as “pro bono publico” or “pro bono” work. The Rules of Professional Conduct that enumerate the ethical standards for attorneys provide in part: “Every lawyer should aspire to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” In 2009 the National Celebration of Pro Bono was launched by a Committee of the American Bar Association to draw attention to the increasing need for pro bono services during harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand. During National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, legal organizations across America participate by highlighting the need for providing this service and giving thanks to the many attorneys who donated their legal skills throughout the year.
Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice John L. Weimer remarked, “I want to commend our Louisiana attorneys who donate to those who are less fortunate; the amount of time they put into meeting this need is remarkable. In 2020, attorneys across our state reported that over 47,700 hours of their time was donated to providing pro bono legal services to those in need.”
The Louisiana State Bar Association is an excellent resource for attorneys seeking to provide pro bono legal services as well as for citizens in need. Through the Access to Justice Commission and its Access to Justice Program, the LSBA encourages its members to provide much-needed pro bono work. The LSBA provides attorneys and citizens with invaluable resources and information on pro bono opportunities and other affordable legal assistance options.
Relatedly, the goals of lawyers’ pro bono work are also aided by the largest single facilitator of legal services in the state to those in financial need, which is the Louisiana Bar Foundation. The Bar Foundation uses an innovative funding source to sustain programs and services to some of the most vulnerable in our society, such as children in need of care and victims of domestic violence. That funding source is interest on amounts held on deposit in the trust accounts lawyers maintain for their clients.
Chief Justice Weimer continued: “The legal system exists to resolve disputes within society, as an alternative to the way our ancestors long ago might have resolved their grievances through retribution. The attorneys of our state who perform pro bono service truly render a service to all of society, by championing the rule of law and by providing access to justice. I applaud them for their efforts and thank them profusely for volunteering to serve those who cannot afford an attorney but cannot afford to be without an attorney.”