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For quite some time now, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s workers’ compensation section has been searching for the best way members of our section can fulfill our obligations as lawyers to provide professional services in an effort to make justice available to all and to increase our representation of the poor and disadvantaged who do not have appropriate access to the legal system. In other words, we have been asking ourselves in what manner section members can best perform pro bono work. Rule 6.1 of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer should render public interest legal service. It further states: “a lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.” In December 2001, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s chancellor, Alan Gordon, empanelled a pro bono task force to evaluate the need for and delivery of pro bono legal services. The first recommendation of the task force was to make pro bono service part of the culture of the legal community, challenging the community to dramatically increase its participation in the direct representation of the poor and disadvantaged. It found that pro bono service must become “part of the culture and fabric of what it means to be a Philadelphia lawyer.” Making pro bono service part of the “culture and fabric” of the workers’ compensation practice has been steady but difficult. By its very nature, the practice of workers’ compensation does not lend itself well to pro bono work since most of our clients are indigent by definition, or tragically becoming so. Additionally, since our fees are contingent upon success, it makes little sense to waive a fee that was not certain to begin with. Moreover, how could one selectively waive one client’s fee, but not another’s? There is no practical means to critique the needs of one client over another. On a broad level, the section has been successful with initiatives such as its partnership with Friends of Farmworkers Inc. (FOF), which is an organization dedicated to improving the living and working conditions of indigent farm workers, mushroom workers, food processing workers and workers from immigrant and migrant communities. In addition to the section as a whole offering general support and assistance, various attorneys in the community have individually offered to accept referrals from the organization, knowing that with low wages and language barriers, the cases will often be difficult to prove with little financial incentive. Interested attorneys can contact attorney Arthur Read of FOF at 215-733-0878, ext. 150 for consideration with respect to future assistance. Aside from the activities of the bar association itself, there are things that the individual lawyer can do to foster pro bono. Since it would not seem appropriate to selectively choose specific clients for representation on a pro bono basis, I would suggest another approach: Take the case that no other attorney wants. Suffice it to say, every attorney has had the experience of a potential client seeking representation who has already been turned down by various other lawyers based on the perception that the case is not likely winnable because of a very difficult fact pattern. Additionally, attorneys routinely reject cases that are for the recovery of medical bills only with no wage loss, leaving the prospect for a earning a fee unlikely. I respectfully suggest that these are the very cases that need to be taken “pro bono publico.” If the client has just cause to bring an action, the prospect of a fee should not always be the deciding factor that makes justice accessible for the individual. How many of us wince when we see a pro se claimant attempting to recover thousands of dollars in medical expenses with no clue on how to proceed. Instead of wincing, we should help. Of course there is a limit to the number of “pro bono” cases that an attorney can take since they often times require more work than a fee-generating case, but the principle of providing legal access to the otherwise unrepresented should be considered. Another practical and effective way to learn about pro bono opportunities both in and out of the practice of workers’ compensation is to join the Philadelphia Bar Association Public Interest Section’s Law Firm Pro Bono Committee. This committee is comprised of representatives from various local law firms along with different individuals from public interest law agencies. The committee meets every other month at lunchtime to discuss ways of providing pro bono legal services to the community at large. The luncheons are not dissimilar to our own section meetings. Individuals at the meetings include pro bono facilitators such as coordinators of firms with long-standing pro bono programs as well as lawyers just looking to get started in establishing a formal pro bono program. Certainly, for the defense bar, networking with these attorneys will provide valuable assistance in formulating your own pro bono policy. The incoming chairman of the public interest section, Jeffrey Campolongo, has made it a personal goal to foster pro bono within the bar and is available to discuss the issue on an individual basis. These are just a few ways of increasing pro bono activity in the bar, especially as it pertains to the practice of workers’ compensation. However, if none of these options appeals to you or if I have not yet convinced you to begin taking up the mantle of pro bono in your own practice, the disinterested lawyers should consider that mandatory pro bono work is not very far off if the community ignores its voluntary opportunities. Christian Petrucci is a solo practitioner and past co-chairman of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation Section. He concentrates his practice in workers’ compensation litigation and Social Security disability. He can be reached at 215-545-0330 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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