Thursday, 30 April 2009

Second season of service?

The Pro Bono Committee of the Connecticut Bar Association has established an Emeritus Project which recruits senior lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to residents who cannot afford to pay for counsel.

There are approximately 30 states in the United States that have similar projects, which are based on the work of a former American Bar Association President, Karen Mathis, who called her original plan the "Second Season of Service."

By enlisting the pro bono services of senior lawyers, the Bar Association is trying to fill some of the vacuum created by legal aid agencies laying off lawyers just as the need for legal aid services increases as a result of the economic problems Connecticut is now confronting.

What are your thoughts about this initiative? We look forward to your comments below.

Posted by the IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee


  1. Is there any provision for malpractice liability coverage?

  2. The link to the Emeritus Project webpate answers the question: "Malpractice insurance will be provided by the agency, as will support staff, research support, and training, if needed."

  3. I understand that under an old private letter ruling, the Internal Revenue Service in the U.S. ruled that an organization providing legal services to individuals over the poverty level could not qualify for tax exemption as a "charity." I assume that the Connecticut bar, with the scope of its activities, wouldn't find its exemption in peril due to any such rule. Has anyone encountered difficulty with tax exempt status requests regarding pro bono legal aid organizations?

  4. I have no idea how legal service organizations are characterized for purposes of US tax laws. However, the Connecticut legal aid organization with which I deal provides free legal assistance to individuals, some of whom are above, within a designated percentage, of the US poverty line. Additionally, certain grants to the legal aid organization, including grants from the US government, allow for legal services to be provided without reference to the US poverty line.

  5. What impact will such Bar Association probono volunteer attorney projects have on the governments' funding of paid legal aid attorneys? Are these projects allowing governments to avoid their obligation to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them?

  6. A similar question comes up with proposals to mandate lawyer fulfillment of their pro bono obligations. One concern is that pushing harder on attorneys to perform "charity" work leaves courts less inclined to approve fee-shifting (that is, the unusual (in the US) requirement that a losing party pay the successful party's attorney's fees). There may be a similar motivation at work in the reluctance among bars in some countries to support academic clinical programs - the concern being that the availability of free help reduces the demand on governments to pay for legal aid from the private bar. Any thoughts on this possible tension between paid and nonpaid legal aid?