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IndyBar: Volunteer to Take a Pro Bono Family Law Case

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By Joe Mulvey, Rubin & Levin PC
 

mulvey-joe-mug Mulvey

The lack of licensed attorneys willing to assume responsibility for routine family law matters is a universal concern for pro bono legal service providers. Although volunteer programs such as the IndyBar’s Legal Line and Ask A Lawyer events provide general information to direct those with legal needs in the right direction, these independent events do not provide the ongoing legal services often necessary to fully resolve a particular issue.

Although assuming responsibility for a pro bono legal matter is a healthy step forward in commitment from a closed-ended legal advice session, the need is great. There are resources out there to assist you, and the benefit provided can be tremendous. Here are some frequently asserted reasons for not taking a pro bono family law case, and some responses.

1. I don’t know anything about family law and I’m worried about making a mistake.

Basic family law CLEs provide the fundamental information, forms and resources for taking on a family law case. The Heartland Pro Bono Council, for example, offered a two-hour CLE in late February of this year, providing draft divorce petitions, engagement letters, client questionnaires and an abundance of literature on various low-income family law programs that can be offered to pro bono clients. They are offering a similar CLE in July. The trainings also establish points of contact to experienced family law attorneys who can help provide guidance when more sophisticated issues arise. Importantly, most service providers tailor their referrals to match the experience level of the volunteering attorney—i.e., uncontested, no-asset, no children divorces can be assigned to family law rookies.

2. I have too much work to do and don’t have time to take on a pro bono case.

This is an obvious concern with respect to both personal time and billable hours (working on a pro bono case will encroach on one or the other), but it is a manageable one. From a billable hour perspective, most firms permit attorneys to count at least a portion of their pro bono work towards billable hour goals. Although taking on a pro bono case may mean a few extra hours in the office, pro bono veterans find that helping someone truly in need of legal representation can offset the weariness generated by the daily grind of handling cases in your typical practice area.

3. I don’t even know where to begin the process of taking on a pro bono case.

The IndyBar receives more referrals for family law pro bono matters than it has volunteers to handle—you can email Caren Chopp at cchopp@indybar.org to request or discuss a potential referral. The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and the Heartland Pro Bono Council (www.nclegalclinic.org/Volunteer.aspx and www.heartlandprobono.org ) have a similar need.

We are excited that the IndyBar Ask A Lawyer event on April 8th provided a record number of 705 people with free legal advice, and we implore those individuals who selflessly donated their time to that and other similar events to consider taking a step forward in the continuum of pro bono service.•

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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