A campaign to raise awareness about the need for pro bono outreach did even better than its organizers at the Connecticut Bar Association's Young Lawyers Section anticipated, with more than $2 million worth of pro-bono legal services recorded in just three months.
The group set the lofty goal last Fall of trying to get members of the bar statewide to pledge a total of $1 million worth of pro bono services to be completed between March and May. The pro bono work that was done during the "$1 Million Pro Bono Service Campaign" helped provide representation for a variety of low-income people in need. Programs that benefitted from the program included legal aid organizations throughout the state.
The lawyers and firms that participated assisted tenants who were battling landlords over needed repairs, women who were being abused and homeless veterans seeking federal disability benefits.
"What we wanted to do was to find a way to not just promote pro bono work, but to drive our members to get work done for the agencies that were most in need," said Jonathan Shapiro, the immediate past president of the Young Lawyer's Section.
Considering a rate of $250 per hour, solo lawyers and big firms together pledged and completed more than 4,000 pro bono hours between March and May, Shapiro said, for a grand total of $2,192,175 worth of pro bono services.
Nearly 50 individual lawyers and/or firms participated in the program. Among them was Sylvia Rutkowska, who practices at Dzialo, Pickett & Allen in Middletown. In addition to helping to get pledges of numbers of pro bono hours, she volunteered her time through the Connecticut Network for Legal Aid, which fields calls from people in need of legal services and connects them with legal services provides.
Through that organization, Rutkowska said,she helped tenants who had sued landlords over abysmal living conditions, including one family that had rats in their apartment in Middletown. She managed to get a court order to force the landlord to take action to clean the apartment. "It was nice to be able to help," Rutkowska said.
Among the programs that benefitted from the pro bono service campaign was Call4Law, which lets prescreened callers talk to a lawyer for up to an hour about their legal issues. More than 225 hours were donated to that program over the three month period.
The Young Lawyers Section serves a social and networking role, by introducing new lawyers to others in the state. The section includes all members of the CBA who are under 37 years of age, or those who have been admitted to the Bar for less than six years.