Providing access to justice especially for the poor and disadvantaged is a centuries old tradition of the legal profession. It is embedded in our codes of professional conduct and in who we are and what we do. We are challenged to live up to our traditions.
"I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with consideration of the defenseless and oppressed."
- Attorney's Oath of Admission, Rule 8.15
"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
in their behalf.“
Rule 4, Rules of Professional Conduct
"A lawyer should render public interest legal service. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations; by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal professions; and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to person of limited means."
* * * * *
" The rights and responsibilities of individuals and organizations in the United States are increasingly defined in legal terms. As a consequence, legal assistance in coping with the web of statutes, rules, and regulations is imperative for persons of modest and limited means, as well as for the relatively well-to-do.
" The basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer, and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, should find time to participate in or otherwise support the provisions of legal services to the disadvantaged. The provision of free legal services to those unable to pay reasonable fees continues to be an obligation of each lawyer as well as the profession generally, but the efforts of individual lawyers are often not enough to meet the need. Thus, it has been necessary for the profession and government to institute additional programs to provide legal services. Accordingly, legal aid offices, lawyer referral services, and other related programs have been developed, and others will be developed by the profession and government. Every lawyer should support all proper efforts to meet this need for legal services." (Emphasis added.)
- Rule 4-6.1: Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service
"As a judicial officer and person
specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to
the improvement of ... the administration of justice. …a judge is encouraged to
2.03, Canon 4, commentary, Code of Judicial Conduct
Judicial Branch, in our constitutional structure, shoulders primary leadership
responsibility to preserve and protect equal justice and take action necessary
to ensure access to the justice system for those who face impediments they are
unable to surmount on their own.”
of Chief Justices, Resolution
The Conference of Chief Justices has called on all judges to encourage pro bono services.
- Resolution VII - Encouraging Pro bono Services in Civil Matters, February 1997
The phrase "Pro bono publico" means for the good of the people. "For the welfare of the whole" (Blacks Law Dictionary). We most frequently leave off the word "publico" but it is essential to the proper understanding. It is not just for an individual's good that lawyers serve needy persons, but for the "public" good, for the welfare of the whole community.
If we really want a just, peaceful, ordered society, we must provide the means of access to the system of justice. "If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice."
- Learned Hand
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