I’ve been reading this book about the benefits of positive anticipation. Well actually I’ve owned this book for several years but I put everything aside and pick it back up when I start to believe that cynicism is the great disease of the era, and, frankly, I begin to feel infected.
Don’t lie. We all have those moments when we feel like Western Civilization has, indeed peaked. When the CNN “news flash” on my iPhone is about the relentless yet oh so boring “sextual” escapades of NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Add insult to injury when CNN is quoting “theDirty.com” as a viable news source when they report Weiner’s alias is/was “Carlos Danger.” People, you just cannot make this stuff up. When fear of any number of things (terrorism, economic ruin, undocumented immigrants, global warming or gay boy scouts) dominates us to the point that our number one coping skill seems to be to shut down and talk about Anthony Weiner.
So I pull out the book I have about hope. Hope is, according to Jim Wallis, editor of the evangelical social justice magazine Sojourners, “believing, in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change.” How incredibly cool is that?
As reported in the last issue of The Indiana Lawyer, Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson hopes that we will eventually have fewer and fewer pro se litigants in our courts because we Hoosier lawyers will step up and volunteer for those who cannot afford counsel. At this time of continued sequestration when court and legal service budgets are suffering drastic funding cuts, and there are more pro se litigants than ever before, access to actual justice is in question. Pro bono service must be the answer. Here, I footnote three resources:
1. The Oath we all took: “…I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless, the oppressed or those who cannot afford adequate legal assistance, so help me God.” Sound familiar?
2. Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 6.1. Pro Bono Publico Service: A lawyer should render public interest legal service. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.
3. Your mother. Let’s face it, it’s the right thing to do.
Speaking for the IndyBar, we are beginning to see the evidence change.
This year the chair of the Pro Bono Standing Committee is Judge Mark Stoner, and under his leadership this bar association has so far in 2013 provided pro bono legal services to well over 1,100 people, and folks, those are just the cases we assigned. Snapshot into the world of the IndyBar pro bono effort:
• Ask-a-Lawyer: 220 hours donated; 567 people helped.
• Legal Line: 112 hours donated; 399 people helped
• Low-Asset Will Program: 52 hours donated; 16 people helped.
• Homeless Shelter program: 150 hours donated; 80 people helped.
You get the picture here, right? While these numbers are only estimates and don’t include key programs like the Bankruptcy Help Line, the Modest Means Program and the Hospice Program, this is remarkable on all levels, and the lawyers, paralegals and law students who are volunteering their time cannot be praised highly enough. Thanks to them, the evidence is indeed changing.
A word to those who have quietly abstained from pro bono work: Give it a shot. I just volunteered for the Hospice Program and the training was fascinating. Yes, it is out of my professional comfort zone, but there can be no better work than helping people leave this world securely, and I feel safe with the support of the program and the mentors it provides. If you cannot practice pro bono, consider funding it. All legal services organizations are in a world of hurt right now—you can help them.
So when you are having one of those days when it is easier to focus on Anthony Weiner than on the myriad of troubling social ills that seem to be ignored, refocus. Redirect the bright shiny light on the work of our members who are helping justice come and settle in the corners of hundred of Hoosiers. Try to realize that, in the paraphrased words of Billie Holiday, “The difficult, we can do right now. The impossible will take a little while.1”•
1 CRAZY HE CALLS ME, a song written by Carl Sigman and Sidney Keith Russell. Sung by the incomparable Billie Holiday.