We first want to take this opportunity to thank the bar for its commitment to helping those individuals who need an attorney but who are unable to afford one. Perhaps you reduced your fees for a parent who needed assistance in a custody dispute. Or, perhaps you put in extra hours without charge to help a returning veteran. Or maybe you have taken on cases completely pro bono. Whichever way, you have made a difference and your contributions are deeply appreciated.
Unfortunately, despite all of the efforts, the need for pro bono services will not abate during 2013. Rather, we will continue to face one of our biggest challenges: how to provide adequate legal representation, and thus equal access, to people who cannot afford a lawyer. To meet this challenge, the Judicial Branch is committed to building on the Pro Bono Committee’s work of the last two years to assist and encourage attorneys throughout the state to help those in need.
After focusing in 2012 on productive follow-up meetings with large firms and corporate legal departments, this coming year we hope to meet with members of regional bar associations in “mini-summits” to discuss the best ways to address specific local needs. We are also focusing on other segments of the profession which can at times be overlooked. In particular, we will be looking for new ways to engage law students and senior attorneys in pro bono work. As an example, the University of Connecticut School of Law is developing a clinic to assist small claims litigants. We believe a similar in-court program might be a productive way to involve some of the more senior members of the bar who may be retired or winding down their practices.
To help in that effort, we are considering a change to the Practice Book, modeled after our in-house counsel rule, which would allow retired attorneys to provide pro bono services without having to return to the full-time practice of law. Such a rule change would allow these attorneys to work with legal aid organizations to obtain the necessary training and malpractice coverage.
We are also this year going to look at ways in which the Judicial Branch can better recognize all of the pro bono work being done by solo practitioners, law firms, bar associations, non-profit organizations, legal aid organizations and corporations. We do notice, and we want to make sure you know how appreciative we are of your work.
Backing The Pledge
Moreover, the Judicial Branch’s Pro Bono Committee will continue to work closely with the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, which has initiated a “Million Dollar Pro Bono Pledge,” which will run from March to May of 2013. The goal is to have lawyers and law firms pledge 4,000 hours of pro bono work, valued at about $1 million. Many firms with whom we have met have already made substantial commitments to the initiative and we will continue to encourage others to talk to YLS President Jonathan Shapiro and others in the section to support their efforts.
Clearly, what we accomplish next year will be a natural outgrowth of our efforts over the past two years. For example, we continue to receive inquiries from law firms, bar associations and corporations interested in doing pro bono work because of their participation in the state’s first ever Pro Bono Summit held a little over a year ago. The New Haven Bar Association went so far as to have its own pro bono summit in March 2012. It was this meeting that gave us the idea to do other regional mini-summits in 2013.
Additionally, with the help of the legal aid community, more than a dozen large law firms and legal departments have started signature pro bono projects, where they are devoting significant resources to a single initiative. These include Robinson & Cole’s restraining order assistance in Middletown, Cummings & Lockwood’s work with Fairfield County probate courts, McCarter & English’s Day Laborer Clinic and Edwards Wildman Palmer’s housing court assistance in Norwalk.
In addition, Halloran & Sage ran its own internal pro bono summit to build on the momentum generated by the Judicial Branch’s summit. The excitement for all of these programs was generated, at least in part, by the great work that our Pro Bono Committee members, who are lawyers from different practice settings throughout the state, do on a regular basis.
As noted above, we also worked closely with the Rules Committee to adopt a rule change that makes it easier for in-house counsel, who are not admitted in Connecticut, to volunteer their services if they are doing it with a Connecticut attorney or in conjunction with a legal aid agency or a bar association. Obviously, the bigger the pool available to provide pro bono services, the better. Legal staffs from corporations like General Electric, Pfizer, and United Technologies have responded by increasing their already substantial commitments to pro bono efforts. We hope that they will serve as examples to other legal departments throughout the state.
Finally, we have included a short, voluntary, anonymous survey on the annual attorney registration form to try to measure the progress we make going forward. We were thrilled that approximately 80 percent of the attorneys registering participated in the survey. While the survey showed that many are already making significant commitments to pro bono, it also showed that we can clearly do more. We hope that this year’s survey will show such progress.
We know that we are asking a lot of you. But we also know the caliber, professionalism and dedication of Connecticut’s attorneys. As Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct says, “a lawyer should render public interest legal services.” By doing so, you help the profession fulfill its charter as “public citizen(s) having special responsibility for the quality of justice.” We thank you for your service so far, and stand ready and willing to assist you in any way possible. Just let us know how we can help.•