We are each on one side or the other of this time-tested axiom.
In volunteer activities, eighty percent of the work is completed by twenty percent of the people.
Anecdotally, this seems true from most of my volunteer commitments over the years. I've served on committees, boards, and fund-raising efforts for the past, well, let's just say 'many' years and some how, it just works out that way. Looking back, at times I'm in the 80% group, sometimes in the 20% group.
When it comes to lawyers and pro bono activities, those of us who regularly work in the poverty law area would be thrilled to have 20% of the bar come along side us to ensure at least access to the courts, if not full representation. Every pro bono activity, celebration or awards ceremony I've ever planned or witnessed, drives home the fact that for lawyers, it's more like 5% of the bar does 80% of the volunteer work.
Recent poverty statistics for Oklahoma included both lawyers and paralegals working for Legal Aid.
There are 8,583 people living at about 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for EVERY single lawyer and paralegal working for Legal Aid.
Thankfully not everyone has a legal crisis all at once, but for the population in Tulsa county alone there are about 300 lawyers for every person in the general population. When you look at it that way, it is easy to see why our phones ring off the hook all day long!
The good new in this very lop-sided equation is that not everyone has a legal crisis at once. There are people who do plan ahead and contact a lawyer before there is a crisis. Bonus: A lawyer doesn't have to take a lengthy litigation case to really make an impact. A very small amount of volunteer time goes a long way to helping your neighbor. There are so many different ways to volunteer your time!
I did my first pro bono case before the ink was dry on my certificate. I have continued to volunteer for community agencies and the occasional one-on-one representation for many years. I can recall many clients, a few funny stories and the many new colleagues now in my life from working at free legal clinics. Overall the experiences have been a lot of fun. There are also frustrations and heartaches but many more of those grateful realizations that "there but for the grace of God, go I."
There have been so many opportunities to volunteer over the years. Legal Aid has a variety of ways for volunteers to get involved.
Glad you asked, here's a start:
1 - Take a case, large or small; sometimes it's a phone call to a landlord to explain the law
2 - Advise clients in person or by telephone at your office
3 - Advise clients in person or by telephone at a Legal Aid office, a library, the courthouse library
4 - Interview clients and advise at a community agency
5 - Mediate disputes|
6 - Mentor new attorneys (or be mentored by a Legal Aid lawyer - great for newer bar members!)
7 - Speak to groups of low-income people or to seniors
8 - Share your vast knowledge of the law by speaking at a legal seminar for other pro bono lawyers
9 - Write or review community education materials for the public or materials for other pro bono lawyers
10 - Help at a courthouse clinic to review paperwork for self-represented litigants
11 - Write a check... or help us with fundraising activities
Can you see yourself getting involved in any of these opportunities to improve some one's life?
If we as a legal profession could just get to the 80/20 rule.
Take the first step by contacting Cindy Goble, Legal Aid's Pro Bono Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 405-488-6823.
You can sign up online anytime at http://www.probono.net/ok/civillaw/jointhisarea/