I’ve been practicing law for over 12 years now and I’ve spent my entire career in the public sector. Why do I work for the government? Because I, like many of my colleagues, have a genuine interest in public service. What I’ve noticed throughout my career is that often times, public law offices are the biggest firms within their respective jurisdiction.
I’m sure that’s not news to anyone, especially those of us who work in the public sector. So, why do I mention it? Because, this means that our government law offices have some of the biggest pools of lawyers that can provide pro bono services within our respective jurisdictions and elsewhere. I have heard many government lawyers give reasons for not participating in providing pro bono services. Among those reasons, ironically, is the very reason we work for the government in the first place – i.e. “I meet my obligation every day since my daily practice involves public interest issues.”
The Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (the “rules”) provide that every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services for those unable to pay. That said, government lawyers may face a number of limitations including conflict of interest restrictions, limitations on the use of office resources and statutory restrictions. Never fear, the rules provide some guidance by encouraging us to fulfill our pro bono public responsibility by delivering legal services at no fee or a substantially reduced fee to, among others, individuals, charitable, religious, civic, or educational organizations in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of legal fees would deplete the organizations resources or be otherwise inappropriate; delivering legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or participating in activities for improving the law, legal system or the legal profession.
There are many ways in which we, as government lawyers, may fulfill our professional responsibility. Operating under the assumption that you, as a government lawyer, fulfill your obligation every day by simply going to work is a false assumption. In fact, the comments to the rules indicate that this does not constitute compliance with the rule. You would be surprised at the number of areas in which you may be able to lend your expertise to MVL, such as family law, landlord-tenant disputes, or probate to name a few.
I’m not trying to guilt anyone into providing pro bono services. I merely want to encourage you to consider it, and remember the reason you are a public sector attorney in the first place. Of course, you will need to check with your employer to see what your office’s specific limitations are. Once you’ve done this (and assuming you get a thumbs-up), consider helping with MVL’s Family Law Court Program, or having your office sponsor a Post-Decree Clinic coordinated and managed by MVL. Working through MVL may address malpractice insurance concerns you have. If you feel that you don’t have the expertise to handle a particular matter, no worries, MVL has a mentoring program for that.
I guess what I’m saying is be like Mikey and try it, you might like it.
Please see the article at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/tcl_articles.cfm?articleid=823 for the CBA’s policy for voluntary pro bono public service by government attorneys for guidance in establishing a policy for your public law office.