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LawBiz® TIPS – Week of November 3, 2015

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According to Alan Weiss, one of my mentors "... Too many of us try to cling to everything we've ever done, leaving no room for new growth..." "Clinging" can be confused with getting "stuck in the mud." If we continue to evolve and grow, improve, learn and contribute more and more as we mature, perhaps we are also expanding while acknowledging our achievements and contributions.

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Ethics Panel: OK for Judges to Encourage Pro Bono Work

Common sense has ruled the day in a recent ABA ethics committee opinion about pro bono work.

An August 2015 ABA Journal article by David L. Hudson Jr. called "Ethics Panel Backs Judges' Letters Asking Lawyers to Consider Community Service" notes that Formal Opinion 470 ("Judicial Encouragement of Pro Bono Bervice"), a May ethics opinion of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, which interprets Rule 3.7(B) of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct and Comment 5 to Rule 3.7, says that it is OK for judges to send letters encouraging lawyers to do pro bono work and that such letters do not represent coercion.

The age-old concept of pro bono public ("for the public good") describes the services of lawyers who voluntarily contribute their time, without charge or at substantially reduced rates, to establish or preserve the rights of disadvantaged individuals and to assist organizations that help such individuals.

Comment 5 to Rule 3.7 says that "a judge may promote broader access to justice by encouraging lawyers to participate in pro bono publico legal services, if in doing so the judge does not employ coercion, or abuse the prestige of judicial office." The comment list several ways in which a judge can encourage lawyers.

According to Hudson's article, the new ethics opinion does note that a letter could be coercive under certain circumstances, but the committee has rightly determined that, in general, a letter to lawyers encouraging them to perform pro bono work cannot be viewed as coercion or abuse of office and thus does not defy the Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

This opinion will help further the aims of ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, which encourages lawyers to volunteer their services to the poor and suggests fifty hours of such service.



Ethics Panel: OK for Judges to Encourage Pro Bono Work

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