I can think of only one reason for a lawyer to be required to provide pro bono services, while I can think of many reasons why this is an idea that should be discarded forthwith. (That forthwith is the sum of my legalese. I’m not a lawyer, but I am an educated professional and feel entitled to comment on this question. After all, the next question may well be: Should all citizens be required to – work for free!)
If a lawyer could be educated at public expense at a state university, then I would understand a standard requirement to offer pro bono work while said lawyer is getting his/her career up and running. However, I am not aware of any such program, unless said aspirant also wants to join the armed forces.
The rule today is that a lawyer assumes the total cost of all necessary education, unless hard work and achievement has won a scholarship. After passing the Bar, some lawyers choose to focus on pro bono work, joining a non-profit firm and working for reduced salaries and personal fulfilment. Others volunteer at local shelters, offer legal advice through the Small Business Administration, teach at community colleges, or take cases on a private charitable basis. There are many ways in which a lawyer may ‘give back’ to society.
However, some lawyers do not choose to practice law for the good of society, when ‘good’ is defined in monetary terms. Many go straight from college to large corporations. Others work as interns in prestigious firms where they hope to gain a foothold. Some work for towns, counties, states, or for the Federal government. Some teach. The choices are many and the right to choose is a valuable liberty. I want to keep that freedom.
A volunteer is just that. No one should be forced to provide professional services, any more than homeowners should be required to collect garbage. The idea of involuntary service offends the spirit of free enterprise and the ideals of personal liberty. It does not guarantee equality, since money can hire the best, and it does not ensure that those who need it most would make use of it. Many government services go unused because of red tape or public unawareness.
Under our present system, there is help available for many who need it. All those facing trial are assured a court-appointed attorney and are assigned a lawyer who has agreed to accept that kind of work. This is not pro bono; the lawyers are paid by the county government. Others can ask that their case be heard by the Court, so that a judge hears their case rather than having a jury trial. An Idiot’s Guide can provide some valuable techniques,and I’m not being funny. I know people with high-priced lawyers who could have saved a lot of money and trouble by reading one. Many people can get legal help through their unions, through human resources services at their work, or through neighborhood organizations. Even appealing to local representatives can be an avenue to getting help.
I allow that the current system may need improvement, but I would not want to see it replaced by requirements imposed by some unspecified authority. All we need is a Bureau of Pro Bono Services, supervising things at tax-payer expense. Multiply that by all the other professional service branches! That’s a legal nightmare for us all to contemplate.