What More Can We Do? Take the AILA Pro Bono Pledge
by Deirdre M. Giblin
n 1993, the American Bar Association (ABA)
amended Model Rule 6.1 of the Model Rules of
Professional Conduct to emphasize the importance
of providing free civil and legal services for the
needy in their communities. The change led 17
states to adopt the new rule which added the word
"voluntary" to the title and rewrote the rule to include
an aspirational goal of "at least 50 hours of pro bono
public legal services per year." Lawyers around the
country took action, including AILA members.
AILA National and AILA Chapters recognize that
immigration attorneys are in a unique position to
influence, direct and provide pro bono immigration
legal services. In 2008, AILA adopted its own set of
pro bono standards to promote and encourage the
immigration bar to continually strive to meet the
needs of indigent and disadvantaged immigrants
throughout the country.
What More Can We Do?
According to the ABA, 93% of attorneys in the United
States feel that "pro bono work is something an attorney
should do" and 66% act on that sentiment! In a 2009
study conducted by the ABA Standing Committee on
Pro Bono and Public Service, respondents confirmed an
increasing level of pro bono interest and participation
among attorneys. Both the overall percentage of pro
bono participation and the average number of pro bono
hours have increased since the ABA first conducted the
study in 2005.
On average, attorneys surveyed reported providing
approximately 41 hours of pro bono service to
persons of limited means or organizations serving
the poor. This percentage was up from 39 hours
reported in 2005.
Similarly, AILA's 2011 Marketplace Study revealed
that on average, AILA members provide 30 hours of
pro bono service annually. Members who specialized
in asylum and removal defense ranked higher than
average, with a median of 50 hours of pro bono per
year, whereas members whose primary source of
income was from business and employment averaged
25 hours of pro bono annually.
But AILA's slightly lower numbers don't tell the whole
story. Over 85% of AILA members practice as solos
or in small firms with six or fewer attorneys. The ABA
membership, on the other hand, is comprised primarily
of attorneys from large corporate law firms with vast
resources. Solo and small firm practitioners represent
only 12% of the ABA's membership! Viewed in such a
context, AILA members are pretty great at giving back!
Motivators for Doing Good
In the wake of the 2013 launch of the AILA Member
Pro Bono Pledge, let's take a look at what motivates our
individual pro bono efforts.
The ABA study went beyond just numbers and tried to
capture the why behind these good deeds. The leading
motivators were a sense of professional duty and
Take the Pro Bono Pledge!
personal satisfaction derived from work, followed by
an "understanding of the needs of the poor." Less than
15% of attorneys listed "professional benefits" as their
Older attorneys were more likely to report doing pro
bono than younger attorneys, and more than threefourths of those who had performed pro bono service
in the past year indicated that they do not seek out
pro bono opportunities: the opportunities find them.
Imagine how many others we could help by looking
beyond the boundaries of our own offices!
Detractions that get in the way of our good intentions
Working with pro bono clients can be personally and
professionally fulfilling, but we know that finding time
to devote to such service is not easy.
The ABA study found that a lack of time was the
primary de-motivator (69%) for doing pro bono
work. Other factors discouraging pro bono activity
were employer related issues, such as billable hours,
expectations and employer discouragement (15%);
a lack of expertise or needed skills (15%); and cost
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