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The legal profession had cause for pride, but not complacency, in its dedication to pro bono service in 2005. The pride comes from attorneys like those we honor with our 2005 Pro Bono Awards: practitioners who rushed to help people rebuild lives and communities wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, persuaded the Supreme Court to ban the execution of juveniles, defended the rights of immigrants and asylum-seekers and fought racial profiling in upstate New York. These efforts evidence a genuine commitment-at least within certain precincts of the profession-to assisting those who otherwise could not afford to assert their legal rights. Interest within the profession in pro bono service is keen-we received scores of nominations for these awards highlighting a wide range of civil, criminal and transactional projects. This commitment is driven by idealism, to be sure, but also, it would appear, by bottom-line business considerations. Objective measurements of this commitment are tricky. Among the attorneys in the country’s 200 largest law firms, 36% performed at least 20 hours of legal work for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it during the 2004 fiscal year, which was up from 34% in fiscal 2003, according to a September story in The American Lawyer, an NLJ sister publication. In a survey of 1,100 lawyers of all sorts, the American Bar Association found that 46% of the profession reported donating an average of 150 hours of free time during the 12 months ending in November 2004. That would be three times the minimum number of volunteer hours that the ABA suggests. Critics including Stanford Law School Professor Deborah Rhode contend that’s nowhere near good enough. Author of the recent book, Access to Justice: Pro Bono in Principle and Practice, Rhode says that less than 1% of the nation’s spending on legal services goes for civil legal assistance for the poor-about $2.25 per capita. That doesn’t include the criminal justice system, which by Rhode’s account affords indigent defendants one-eighth of the resources available to prosecutors. “I think there’s a huge amount of complacency out there,” Rhode said in a telephone interview. Positive reinforcement for attorneys to donate their time and skills is fine, she said, but “a little bit of shaming would be a good thing, too.” That said, the profession demonstrated its capacity to mobilize in an emergency following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Elsewhere, attorneys demonstrated their commitment to standing up for the despised, rejected and misunderstood.

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