Lawyers often use the term pro bono to describe work they take on for a client without charging that client for the work; ie not expecting to be compensated. Pro bono is short for “pro bono publico”, which translates form Latin to “for the public good.” Pro bono work is “professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment or at a reduced fee as a public service.” (WIKI) Black’s Law Dictionary defines pro bono as “being or involving uncompensated legal services performed esp. for the public good.” Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009), pro bono.
A review of these definitions and the term in general confuses me as a young lawyer. The central reason why I became a lawyer was to make the world a better place. Taking that to heart, I cannot help but wander when did the work lawyers do stop being for the public good, as a whole.
I distinctly remember my first year orientation at law school. One of the speakers came to the podium, and began discussing the place of lawyers in society. Just as the world need doctors to heal the sick, the world needs lawyers to heal society. He also described the responsibility – the burden – that lawyers must assume; care of the poor and underprivileged. He described this in such a way that made sense. The world has thrust upon doctors the diseased and upon lawyers, the poor and oppressed. It is our responsibility to help those who lack the resources to help themselves. In my young, law school naivety, this was music to my ears. On the edge of my seat, gaze intently focused on the podium; I had taken a giant gulp of the proverbial punch and I was ready for more.
Five years later, as I go through the security checkpoint at the Plant City Courthouse with Dogali Law Group’s newest pro bono client, in between removing my shoes and being yelled at by security for not returning my bowl, I asked myself, what happened? When did lawyers cease being saviors and become villains? The world still revels doctors, yet lawyers are consistently berated and belittled. Why?
The large personal injury billboards on the side of the road back to the office, like the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, reveal some semblance of an answer. We did this to ourselves.
But we can fix it. From the beginning, when we as lawyers take the oath, we promise to not turn our back. We pledge: “I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay anyone’s cause for lucre or malice. So help me God.” As lawyers, we cannot allow “personal to myself” to overshadow the cause. Worse, we cannot continue to let society feel as though personal to ourselves obscures their cause.
The world still needs us – now more than ever.