Doing Well By Doing Good: Pro Bono Representation
Pro bono service, unlike traditional volunteerism, uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them. It is most common in the legal profession and increasingly seen in marketing, architecture, business, design, and law. According to the Taproot Foundation, “For those who feel drawn to high-powered jobs and to public service, pro bono work offers the opportunity to live richer, more fulfilling lives by putting their specialized professional skills to work for the greater good. Perhaps more importantly, pro bono work fundamentally changes the identity of the profession and brings a sense of nobility and purpose to the craft.”
An interview with Brent E. Routman, President 2011-2012, Minnesota State Bar Association
Why is it valuable for attorneys to promote pro bono efforts?
As lawyers, we have a special responsibility in society to ensure that everyone has adequate and effective access to justice, and that our judicial system functions well. There is an overwhelming need for lawyers to step up to the plate at a time when state and federal funding of civil legal services and public defender services have been reduced by nearly 20 percent and the need for assistance has grown by the same amount in the last three years. We also have an obligation under the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 6.1) to provide pro bono representation to clients who can’t afford our services. Volunteering pays dividends in terms of practice experience reminds many why they became lawyers in the first place.
Minnesota is known on a national scale for providing pro bono legal services. Why do you think this is true?
We have a long history of collaboration between the private bar, civil legal services providers, and the court system in Minnesota. For example, the MSBA created the Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee over 30 years ago to provide a forum for addressing the legal needs of low-income people. I think our colleagues—years ago—recognized that we have an obligation to ensure access and were forward-thinking in how they chose to do this. Many of our larger private firms were leaders in national efforts such as the Pro Bono Challenge to institutionalize pro bono work in law practices.
Are there any “unwritten rules” to working with pro bono clients?
You have to provide the best quality representation regardless of whether or not you are getting paid by your client. That’s an ethical obligation. Also, it’s important to remember that pro bono clients come to you in times of distress and you need to remember that you are helping them navigate a system that seems foreign and hard to understand.
What can you tell our readers about ProJusticeMN?
ProJusticeMN is a collaboration between the MSBA, Minnesota Legal Services Coalition and ProBonoNet (a non-profit based in New York that provides websites for pro bono lawyers nationally). It was started over a decade ago as a way of providing practices resources to pro bono and legal services lawyers on the web. It has grown and changed over the years to include truly helpful case materials and trainings to help lawyers in practice, and now includes a case placement feature that allows lawyers to search for volunteer opportunities as well as set up email alerts. It’s the singles best practice resource for the pro bono lawyer on the web.
Are there requirements set by the State Bar to do pro bono work?
The Minnesota Supreme Court sets forth the professional responsibility rules for lawyers and adopted Rule 6.1 many years ago. It strongly encourages, but does not require, lawyers in private practice to do 50 hours of pro bono service each year for low-income clients. We are the only profession that has such a rule, as far as I know.
Does the State Bar offer reimbursement opportunities for pro bono work?
The pro bono programs are managed by each individual non-profit legal services organization. The State Bar assists them with finding volunteers and supporting pro bono work overall, but each organization handles the logistics. Each organization varies on whether they will help volunteers with the cost of expenses such as court filings or mileage.
Would you like to add anything else?
If you are an attorney in Minnesota, we need your help to meet the justice gap in our state. Please contact Pro Bono Development Director Steve Marchese at the MSBA at email@example.com and he can connect you with legal services organizations that can use your assistance. We also urge all licensed attorneys within the state to join the AMICUS Society. It is free to join and members commit only to providing five hours of time in a year to educate the public on the rule of law, role of the courts, and adequate funding for the entire judicial system (the courts, civil legal services, and public defenders). For more information, please contact Brent at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many local companies give back to the community, whether through pro bono efforts, direct giving, foundations, donations, volunteer programs, or matching gifts. Here is a list of top corporate giving programs in Minnesota:
3M Company | St. Paul
ADC Telecommunications, Inc | Eden Prairie
AgStar Financial Services, ACA | Mankato
Alliant Techsystems Inc. | Minneapolis
Allianz Life Insurance Company
of North America | Minneapolis
Ameriprise Financial | Minneapolis
Andersen Corporation | Bayport
Apogee Enterprises, Inc. | Minneapolis
Best Buy Co., Inc. | Richfield
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
Minnesota | Eagan
Cargill, Incorporated | Minneapolis
Carlson Companies, Inc. | Minnetonka
CenterPoint Energy Minnegasco | Minneapolis
Ceridian Corporation | Minneapolis
CHS Inc. | Inver Grove Heights
Deluxe Corporation | Shoreview
Donaldson Company, Inc. | Bloomington
Dorsey and Whitney LLP | Minneapolis
Ecolab Inc. | St. Paul
Edina Realty, Inc. | Edina
Federated Insurance Companies | Owatonna
First National Bank Bemidji | Bemidji
General Mills, Inc. | Minneapolis
Graco Inc. | Minneapolis
H.B. Fuller Company | St. Paul
Hickory Tech Corporation | Mankato
Homecrest Industries, Inc. | Wadena
Hormel Foods Corporation | Austin
Incorporated | Hutchinson
Imation Corp. | Oakdale
Queen, Inc. | Minneapolis
Jostens, Inc. | Minneapolis
Land O’Lakes, Inc. | Arden Hills
Larkin, Hoffman, Daly &
Lindgren, Ltd. | Minneapolis
Lawson Software, Inc. | St. Paul
M. A. Mortenson Company | Minneapolis
Malt-O-Meal Company | Northfield
Medtronic, Inc. | Minneapolis
Minnesota Power, Inc. | Duluth
Basketball Limited Partnership | Minneapolis
Minnesota Twins | Minneapolis
—Courtesy of The Craftsmanship Center