I want to move my law practice to New York City. The streets there must be paved with gold. Why else would anyone consider it remarkable when a lawyer pledges to log a mere 50 pro bono hours each year.
A bunch of big-time Manhattan firms have signed onto the New York City Bar Association's "Statement of Pro Bono Principles." In addition to pledging 50 hours per year for each lawyer, the statement requests that 30 of those hours be for the help of poor people in civil matters. It also "strongly encourages" senior lawyers to work pro bono.
Only 30 of the 55 firms approached signed on, meaning that more than two dozen firms would rather grab cash than do public service.
It seems shameful that these firms needed a bar program to kick start their consciences. It is stunning that 25 firms refused to commit to service.
We small-town lawyers know pro bono all too well. A mother's tears have moved me to commit weeks, even months, to the defense of a criminal case. And sometimes a person reports a tort so foul that I am headlong into the breach simple for the thrill of some self-righteous ass-kicking. If small firms can do it without armies of Ivy League associates sitting up all night billing for the ceaseless churning of files with stupid discovery stunts, then everyone can do it.
I say shame on the New York City Bar Association, and shame on the New York bar. Patting ourselves on the back for doing our a little bit of good shouldn't be newsworthy.