By Leslie Pollie, Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads PC
It is no secret that the legal profession has been increasingly focused on community and pro bono services in the past few years. This emphasis has led many firms to recognize the pro bono efforts of their attorneys, with some firms enacting yearly pro bono hour requirements that count as credit toward an attorney’s billable hour requirement.
What many attorneys may not realize is that the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct also address a lawyer’s responsibility to share his or her legal knowledge and experience to those who cannot otherwise afford such services. ABA Model Rule 6.1 states “[e]very lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” Rule 6.1 goes on to recommend that every attorney aspire to donate 50 hours a year of pro bono services to the community. This may leave many attorneys, especially those new to the bar, wondering where or how to donate their time. Fortunately, attorneys in Indianapolis have to look no further than the Indianapolis Bar Association.
Indianapolis Bar Association’s Pro Bono Standing Committee oversees and provides support for many of the pro bono opportunities in Marion County, including the most popular—our Ask a Lawyer program. Since the spring of 2005, IndyBar attorney volunteers have served more than 5,000 members of the Indianapolis community both in person and by phone through this program, which is offered twice yearly in April and October.
Through the Ask a Lawyer program, attorneys reach out into the community to provide both knowledge and compassion. During each Ask a Lawyer event, nearly 100 member attorneys go to various Indianapolis Public Library branches to provide free legal advice to community residents. Anyone with legal questions can meet with a lawyer and have their questions answered. In order to serve as many citizens as possible, the consultations are limited to approximately fifteen minutes. The topics of discussion range from domestic matters and landlord/tenant issues to probate questions. Volunteers are provided with informational packets designed to guide them through many common questions and issues that have arisen throughout the years. In addition, volunteers are given contact information for other organizations that may provide additional assistance and representation to those in need.
Often, the attorney is able to answer questions, provide direction or additional information to the public about additional available legal services. For those attorneys, it is important to note that the consultations are anonymous and no additional follow up will occur. Consequently, attorneys are able to provide important information to the community.
The program would not be successful without the support of the dynamic IndyBar paralegal members as well. Paralegals serve as site coordinators, hitting neighborhoods in advance with posters to advertise the program, working with library staff, greeting the public and orientating the attorney volunteers before their shift.
Not only can members of the community meet with an attorney in person during the Ask a Lawyer program, they can also call in to the IndyBar office to get legal advice from an attorney over the phone during Legal Lines, which takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. As with the in-person meetings, the calls are confidential for both parties and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. This is also simply a two-hour time commitment.
Every quarter, the Pro Bono Standing Committee will be highlighting a different Indianapolis pro bono opportunity. The IndyBar strongly believes in its members and their ability to make a difference in the community and strives to provide a wide range of service opportunities. If you read about a program that interests you, please contact Caren Chopp at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about getting involved.•