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Every few months I find myself wandering around a Home Depot in search of tools and materials for some doomed do-it-yourself home improvement project. Invariably, I wind up wasting an entire weekend trying to figure out how to do something that an expert could knock out before breakfast. One recent shelf hanging fiasco required all the abilities of a skilled carpenter to conceal the carnage that my drill and I inflicted on a wall. I am often reminded of those Bob-Vila-wannabe moments when I speak to lawyers about doing pro bono work. They usually cite lack of experience as the primary reason for not doing more pro bono. Many lawyers feel about as competent to handle a divorce or housing matter as I do about anchoring a large set of bookshelves to my wall. But the reality remains that most pro bono clients do not need advice about a merger or help in drafting a loan agreement. The vast majority of pro bono cases involve issues such as family law, housing, government benefits, immigration, civil rights and guardianships. Not exactly the bread-and-butter practice at most major New York law firms. So how can someone who lacks experience get involved in pro bono work? There are at least two ways to overcome this obstacle. The first involves expanding your knowledge and experience through training and mentoring. With the advent of Continuing Legal Education requirements in New York a few years ago, there has been an explosion of training opportunities offered by pro bono programs. The second approach involves finding pro bono opportunities in your area of expertise. While the opportunities here may be limited, there are projects that specialize in such non-traditional pro bono topics as corporate, tax and real estate law. Since New York joined the large number of states that require lawyers to obtain a certain number of CLE credits every two years, many of us have found ourselves scrambling to pick up a few more credits as the deadline nears. This has presented a terrific opportunity for pro bono programs, many of which are now CLE accredited. Just a few years ago, only major pro bono programs provided any kind of formal training for volunteers. Partly as a result of the CLE requirements, almost every pro bono program now places a much greater emphasis on training and sponsors classes on a regular basis, either directly or in partnership with another organization. The easiest way to learn more about the training calendar for a particular program is to contact them directly. You can either call their pro bono coordinator or check their Web site. You may also want to inquire about whether their training is available on videotape. However, if you are not admitted yet or have been admitted for less than two years then you should know that you are not allowed to obtain CLE credit from “non-traditional” sources such as videotape. Another way to find out more about pro bono training is by visiting www.probono.net. This site maintains a calendar of training available at various pro bono programs. A recent look at the site revealed the tremendous range and frequency of courses available. For example, on Feb. 25, Legal Services for New York offered a course for lawyers interested in working on sexual orientation-based asylum cases. On March 5, inMotion hosted a training on orders of protection/custody and visitation. You can learn how to handle an employment discrimination case at a training being offered by The Association of the Bar of the City of New York this Wednesday. CLE FOR PRO BONO One little-known benefit to handling a pro bono case through a CLE accredited program is that you can receive CLE credits for the pro bono work as well. You can receive one CLE credit for every six hours of pro bono legal work performed, up to a total of six hours of CLE credits during a two-year period. This pro bono bonus is just another reason to get a case from an established pro bono program. Of course, obtaining CLE credit is not the primary reason why most lawyers volunteer for a pro bono case. In fact, associates at most large law firms can usually get more than enough CLE credits without ever leaving their offices. The main point here is that even lawyers who forgot how to draft a will two minutes after taking the bar exam now have no excuse for not getting involved in pro bono work. However, for those of you who have no interest in learning a new area of law or simply want to utilize your existing experience, there are still opportunities to get involved. A number of pro bono programs assist not-for-profits with a range of issues such as incorporation, tax, real estate, contracts, and employment. A few of the most notable programs include Lawyers Alliance for New York, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Some traditional pro bono programs have also expanded their focus to include corporate work on behalf of organizations that are involved in improving economic development in low-income communities. Those projects include the Legal Aid Society’s Community Economic Development Unit, Urban Justice Center, and Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation “A.” Also, if you are interested in working with individual taxpayers in need of pro bono assistance, the Brooklyn Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (a project of South Brooklyn Legal Services) and the Legal Aid Society’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic offer extensive training and mentoring. Given this wealth of training and expanded opportunities for non-traditional pro bono work, lack of experience is no longer a real impediment to volunteering. This is significant since, unlike in my home improvement analogy, pro bono clients are unable to hire an expert to rescue them. Just as important, they often need assistance with matters that are not within most lawyers’ expertise. As for myself, after many lost weekends, I have come to the realization that certain home improvement jobs are best left to the experts. Anybody want to buy a used drill? Anthony Perez Cassino is assistant director of public service at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

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