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Lawyer commits to pro bono

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The aspirational pro bono goal for attorneys, set by the American Bar Association and endorsed – but not forced – by many states, is around 50 hours. Some Indiana attorneys work this into their annual budget by working with pro bono district plan administrators to accept cases when need exists and when they can easily fit them into their work schedules.

A Carmel solo attorney has pledged to do 150 hours of pro bono and modest means casework to be assigned from the Heartland Pro Bono Council, which covers Marion and neighboring counties.
 

Clar_Wendy-15col Wendy Clar (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

In January, Wendy Clar submitted 36 hours of pro bono and modest means cases, and in mid-February she said she’ll likely exceed her arbitrary goal and will keep taking cases as they are assigned.

Clar’s story is somewhat different from most attorneys who take on pro bono cases. Instead of fitting it into her schedule or taking a case from time to time, she plans to transition her practice to be mostly pro bono and modest means cases. She also hopes to offer legal services through her practice at a low rate to those who don’t meet the income qualifications for pro bono or modest means.
 

boyd-laurie Boyd

Clar first got involved with Heartland Pro Bono Council in 2007 when she called plan administrator Laurie Boyd after learning about the organization through the Hamilton County Bar Association, one of the many ways Boyd and other plan administrators reach out to attorneys. Boyd said nothing makes her day more than a call from an attorney asking how she can take a case.

In October 2010, Clar received a Pro Bono Publico Award at the Randall T. Shepard dinner honoring pro bono service in Indiana. Boyd nominated Clar because she completed 10 cases received from the Heartland Pro Bono Council in 2009. In 2010, Clar accepted 16 modest means cases and five pro bono cases.

Doing pro bono comes naturally to Clar. She received her master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University in 1988 and was a social worker for six years before she attended Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif., from 1995 to 1998. As a social worker in Rochester, N.Y., she worked with maltreated children and poor families.

After law school she worked as a part-time district attorney and a law guardian in Rochester, N.Y., and for a small firm in Newark, N.Y. She moved to the Indianapolis area after her husband accepted a job with the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2005.

Clar was admitted to practice in Indiana in 2006. In her solo practice she handles all aspects of Indiana family law including child custody, child support, divorce, emancipation, enforcement proceedings, guardianships, legal separations, modification proceedings, parenting time, paternity, post dissolution proceedings, prenuptial agreements, protective orders, and spousal support.

For Heartland Pro Bono Council, she has taken on a variety of cases and told Boyd to send her whatever she thinks Clar can handle. Boyd said she has tried to send Clar a mix of cases in terms of issues and time commitment, and that Clar has turned down only one case due to a scheduling conflict. Boyd has also tried to send a few modest means cases to Clar so she’ll be paid at least something, she said.

Another attorney who made a pledge to pro bono is Erin L. Berger, a solo who has a general practice in Evansville. In 2006, she offered to take on at least one case a month from the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, which serves 11 counties in that part of the state. She succeeded.

Berger worked for Indiana Legal Services in Evansville as an intern when she was in law school and said she always had an appreciation for civil legal aid and pro bono work. By helping with ILS intake, she realized how many people needed legal help but couldn’t afford it or didn’t qualify for ILS assistance. As a part-time public defender on cases that deal with children in need of services in Vanderburgh County, she sees the need for legal aid there as well.

Berger said she has continued to take as many pro bono cases each year as she can. In her district, she said, the plan administrators send a monthly newsletter that describes cases that need an attorney. Many times, she said, she’ll see a case she can handle and will volunteer.

Berger said she tries to take on pro bono cases in juvenile court such as guardianships, step-parent adoptions, paternity cases, and custody cases because she’s often there anyway.

Districts are looking for more ways to recruit and retain volunteers. While many have events to appreciate attorneys who take on pro bono cases and some offer free or reduced-fee continuing legal education opportunities for attorneys who accept pro bono cases, districts are also asking members what they consider as incentives.

Diane Walker in District 10 performed a survey and learned that the top five motivators for those who responded were free CLEs, “discrete tasks that are time-limited,” “peer mentoring,” “giving me continuing legal education credit for doing a case,” and “legal forms done beforehand.”

The top reason for doing pro bono work, given by 83.3 percent of respondents, was “access to justice is important to me,” she said.

Both Clar and Berger said they didn’t volunteer to take cases to help their respective districts because of the budget cuts the districts endured for 2011, but both said they hoped more attorneys would consider volunteering their time.

“Even if an attorney can give an extra hour a month to a pro bono case, that’s still 12 hours a year. It really adds up,” Clar said. “The clients are so appreciative. That’s the rush I get from doing this.”


fennell-monica Fennell

Boyd added that there is a growing need, something that was echoed by Monica Fennell, executive director of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission.

“I think more lawyers are volunteering to help those in need because in this economy there are constant reminders that unemployment is high, foreclosures are not abating, and people are in crisis – and lawyers want to help,” Fennell said via e-mail. “They are finding that there are many ways to use their unique skills, whether it is handling an appeal or attending a settlement conference with a borrower in a foreclosure case or one of the many other pro bono cases. For new lawyers and law students, doing pro bono work is also a good way to get experience in a tough job market.”•

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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