Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Challenging “Five Myths” About Pro Bono Work

Jodi Feldman, Director of Pro Bono and Intake

Have you ever thought about writing your own “five myths” column based on the Washington Post’s regular feature?  The Pro Bono Institute’s President and CEO Esther Lardent was inspired to do just that, penning her own “Five Myths about Pro Bono” that recently appeared in The National Law Journal.  Like others in the legal services community, we here at Legal Aid are familiar with the oft-repeated myths and the realities that Ms. Lardent highlights in her column. 

First among the myths cited by Ms. Lardent is the belief that large law firms and their lawyers only are interested in “sexy” pro bono matters (for example, representing Guantanamo Bay detainees or death row inmates or undertaking matters that address hot topics in public policy such as challenges to Arizona’s immigration laws) rather than traditional “bread and butter” legal services work – handling individual civil law cases for low-income individuals and families.  Our experience at Legal Aid comports with the reality that Ms. Lardent describes, not the myth.   

In 2011, Legal Aid referred over 80 matters, a slight increase from 2010, in the areas of landlord/tenant, domestic violence, family law, public benefits and consumer law on behalf of low-income clients to attorneys at dozens of large law firms.  We find that pro bono attorneys are eager to use their talent and skills to help their fellow DC-area residents and neighbors in need.  They also value the mentoring and technical assistance that our experienced Legal Aid attorneys provide.  Moreover, the individual lawyers, as well as the leadership at large law firms, recognize the professional development and skills-building opportunities that “bread and butter” legal services cases provide, which often differ from the experiences gained in corporate practice.   

 “Sexy” or not, if you are wondering what it feels like to save a family from eviction where they have withheld their rent because of the landlord’s refusal to comply with the DC Housing Code, or to secure a custody order for a woman who has been living in fear that her children’s father will make good on his threat to “steal” her children, or to help a man who has worked most of his adult life and now is too sick to work secure the disability benefits to which he is entitled, we encourage you to ask.  Attorneys at law firms, large and small, all over DC, will tell you that that it feels great and will be one of the most professionally and personally rewarding experiences of your legal career. 

If want to learn more about pro bono opportunities with the Legal Aid Society, please contact me at jfeldman@legalaiddc.org.

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