By Kris Kazmierczak, Katz & Korin PC
Michael A. Rogers, who heads up Quarles & Brady’s pro bono initiatives in Indianapolis, says there are two basic steps to a useful and personally fulfilling pro bono experience. From his point of view, the first and normally most difficult step is to make the decision and commitment to do something. The second and equally challenging step is to provide pro bono representation with the same level of effort and importance that is given to paying clients.
The pro bono committee of the Indianapolis Bar Association selected Rogers for special recognition due to the many hours of pro bono services he has personally devoted over the years, as well as the pro bono activities he has coordinated on his firm’s behalf. Although the committee had numerous potential candidates to recognize, Rogers stood out from the crowd as a younger lawyer who frequently participates and coordinates with others to volunteer for pro bono activities, particularly those available through the Indianapolis Bar Association. When called upon, Rogers seems to always find time or a person to volunteer for bar sponsored pro bono events.
As Rogers observed, all of the daily demands of the legal profession make it difficult to commit to take the initial step of picking up the phone or sending an email to take on pro bono work. His recommendation is to just do it. He explained that the first engagement does not require taking on a full-blown representation in a complicated matter. Instead, to get started he suggests initially taking on smaller projects with a set and predictable end date. He also offered that working with others and in teams is another great way to get started.
With respect to his pro bono service work and initiatives, Rogers has done way more than take a first step. So far this year, Rogers spent about 100 hours on pro bono matters. He attributes some of his success to his firm’s strong commitment to pro bono service. According to Rogers, Quarles & Brady’s goal is to expend approximately 3% of firm-wide billable hours on pro bono work, a goal Rogers personally seeks to meet or exceed. Rogers commented that a law firm’s investment in establishing a pro bono initiative can be key to encouraging lawyers to take the first step and volunteer. The momentum builds from there.
Once the first step is taken and pro bono representation begins, Rogers believes it is imperative for the attorney to give a pro bono client the same level of attention and effort as a paying client. This could mean that a pro bono client’s needs must be added to and coordinated with a paying client’s needs on days when there is not enough time on the clock to get it all done. Rogers said he makes his pro bono representation a “priority, just as you would if your biggest client was calling.”
Rogers was asked if he thought pro bono work was an important part of the legal profession. He explained that if lawyers do not offer their time, then droves of people with serious, but most times simple, legal needs do not get help or their issues resolved. Rogers recalled that the Indiana Oath of Attorneys provides: I will never reject, from consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless, the oppressed or those who cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Given that commitment, every lawyer practicing in Indiana has already agreed that pro bono services are an important and fundamental part of the legal profession. As Rogers summed it up, “pro bono work is important for the legal profession because it’s the right thing to do and we [attorneys] are the only ones who can do it.”
On behalf of the Pro Bono Committee, we extend our gratitude to Michael Rogers for all the pro bono service he has done and continues to offer. If you are ready to take the first step, keep in mind that the Indianapolis Bar Association is a great resource for sorting through and identifying pro bono opportunities or leads tailored to your experience level and time commitment. This is the first in a series of articles that will recognize attorneys providing pro bono services in our community.•
Kris Kazmierczak is a member of the Indianapolis Bar Association Pro Bono Committee and a shareholder of Katz & Korin PC where he practices in the areas of business and employment counseling and litigation.