Talking Points

Talking Points

When speaking to lawyers or the public consider the following:

The need: Annually 50,000 households have legal problems, cannot afford an attorney and cannot be served by the existing legal services programs. For more see The Need.


Tip: Statistics inform, stories motivate. Tell stories from your own experience as to how needy persons were denied justice because of lack of representation or receive justice thanks to pro bono representation. For true stories, see below.
Share the load: The more attorneys who participate in pro bono, the lighter the load on each.
Ethical duty: “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.” - Preamble, Rule 4, Rules of Professional Conduct. For more see Our Duty.

There is no peace without justice: If we really want a just, peaceful, ordered society, we must provide the means of access to the system of justice. The legal system is intended to provide just, orderly and peaceful means to resolve disputes. Lack of access to the administration of justice can lead to self-help, which may lead to confrontation and even violence. Pro bono legal service increases access to the legal system and promotes peaceful resolution of problems.

Professionalism: “The term [professionalism] refers to a group pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service - no less a public service because it may incidentally be a means of livelihood. Pursuit of the learned art in the spirit of a public service is the primary purpose.” Pound, Roscoe (1953). The Lawyer from Antiquity to Modern Times. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., p. 5.


Professional satisfaction: If you are a lawyer who, in addition to earning a good income for yourself and family, have a commitment to a free and just community and take satisfaction from solving or preventing problems for others - especially those most in need – then you will find personal satisfaction in pro bono legal service.


You are not alone: The courts are doing their part in supporting and recognizing pro bono legal services.
  • List what your local court is doing to help and recognize pro bono attorneys.
  • Note what the Supreme Court is doing:
    • Of significant support are the new rules on limited scope representation. The new rules make pro bono representation much more efficient by conserving the attorney's times.
    • The Court has appointed the Committee on Access to Family Courts (CAFC) to focus on both pro se and pro bono needs.
  • Most legal service corporation agencies, Samaritan Center Legal Care and other pro bono agencies provide training, free CLEs, etc., for volunteer attorneys.

Pro se is not the best answer: Many of the needy households try to help themselves by becoming pro se litigants. Some become victims of Internet or mail-order forms factories, which take their money while giving them nothing of value. Pro se litigants are not familiar with pleading requirements or court procedures and seek help from court personnel. Clerks and judges are in a "catch-22" since they must be impartial and cannot give legal advice to the litigants. As a result, hearing dockets get delayed as judges attempt to explain basic processes to them, cases get repeatedly continued, or their pleadings get dismissed without resolving the legal problems.

Without access to justice, people live wounded lives: A sick or injured person who does not have access to a doctor or hospital does not cease to suffer. The legal problems of persons who cannot get access to lawyers or the courts do not simply cease to exist. The persons lead dysfunctional lives. Children go without support. Parents wrangle over custody. Families lose their housing.

Pro bono benefits the whole community: Lack of access to the system of justice harms not only the marginalized but the whole community.
  • Without access to just resolutions persons resort to self-help solutions, which on occasion results in confrontation and violence to the parties and innocent bystanders.
  • Lack of timely legal advice may lead to costly mistakes, which may increase demand for public welfare assistance and services.
  • Frequently an explanation of legal responsibilities of both parties can result in a consensus without confrontation or litigation. Lack of legal advice creates unnecessary litigation adding to the burden on courts and lawyers.

Tips: Use metaphors: Just as one picture is worth a thousand words, a well chosen metaphor implants an image in the listener's mind that continues to illustrate your point.

Who are the needy? Below are brief summaries of real cases where needy persons received pro bono legal representation. You may find them useful in your talking points.
  • She is a widow living on Social Security with a mentally retarded son who will become 18 soon. She needs guardianship to be able to continue to care for his needs.
  • They are a black couple living in a house not fit for human habitation and their landlord has used eviction and lies to get a default judgment and manipulate them into signing a new lease at a higher rent.
  • She is an American citizen of Hispanic descent. Her brother lost his business and came to live with her. He was “getting life back together," riding a bicycle to work each day. Even though her lease contained no restriction, the landlord threatened to evict her if she did not kick her brother out.
  • They are victims of “zombie collectors” who buy up debts from creditors where the statute of limitations has run then file suits on the odds that the victims will not know their rights and default.
  • He was only 24 but facing a terminal brain tumor. Unable to work he needed legal services – a durable power of attorney for health care so that someone could make decisions for him in his final days.
  • Their mother owned a Habitat for Humanities’ house and died without a will. The daughters needed legal help to transfer title to their home.
  • She is a terminally ill mother of a mentally retarded daughter. She was served legal papers threatening her daughter’s disability payments.

  • He valued freedom so much that he tried to swim from Cuba to the U.S. with only the help of an inner tube. Cuban authorities imprisoned him for a year. Eventually he made it to the U.S. through Mexico and works as a carpenter, but legal problems threatened his ability to get support back to the child he left behind with his mother in Cuba.

  • They were a young married couple in a new town. After a friend’s business went under they were left jobless. He was recovering from throat cancer and seeking Social Security disability.

  • He got behind on a credit card. Interest and fees multiplied and the creditor garnished his wages. Unfortunately his employer misread the law and over time $500 was improperly withheld from his minimum-wage job. He needed help to get his money back.

  • She was only 19 and caring for two younger brothers, keeping them in school and safeguarding them from an abusive father. She needed legal custody to protect them.

  • When his young wife was dying he promised her that he would care for her preschool age daughter of another father. He wanted to adopt her.

  • Unable to work after a construction job injury left him with reoccurring dizziness, his debts became overwhelming. Bankruptcy gave him a fresh start.

  • Her 19-year-old daughter was suicidal; without guardianship she was without legal power to provide for her protective institutionalization.

For other talking point ideas, view the One Client One Attorney One Promise video from Florida. Also the California Judicial Conference talking points for judges.

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