If I Only Had a Heart: The Real Truth Behind Lawyers and Pro Bono Work

by Mike Mintz on April 15, 2011 · 0 comments

in martindale.com connected

When a man’s an empty kettle he should be on his mettle,
And yet I’m torn apart.
Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be kind-a-human,
If I only had heart.

Tin Man, The Wizard of Oz (musical)

As Dorothy, Toto, and the Scarecrow bound through the forest on their way to meet the Wizard, they happen upon a frightening site: a man, made of metal, frozen in place, with his giant ax stuck in tree that he had felled at some unknown point in time. They begin to examine this strange tableau and nearly jump through the forest canopy when the man starts to speak, asking to be oiled. We all know how the story ends: they oil the tin man, he tells the tale of wanting a heart, and accompanies them on their way to the Emerald City.

In many ways, lawyers are like the tin woodsman: we come across as thick skinned, can be an imposing force, and are often thought of as not having a heart. A new study by Pro Bono Net and LexisNexis may just prove these perceptions wrong.

Where most of us would think that lawyers do pro bono work either because “they have to” or are motivated by enhancing their career through getting valuable, hands on experience they might not have otherwise gotten if a paying client’s money was on the line, the study found quite the opposite.

With an overwhelming majority of 75%, pro bono lawyers made it clear that their commitment to pro bono work is mainly driven by Personal Fulfillment. This was followed by a distant second influential factor—Commitment to a Specific Cause with 43%— and, in third place, with only one-third of lawyers citing it—Meeting an Ethical Obligation (37%).

These results show that lawyers do care. Rather than pro bono being a tool to get ahead in their careers, lawyers are seeking pro bono opportunities really give back, and perhaps do the kinds of meaningful work they once pictured themselves doing while in law school, but had to defer in the face of accepting that big firm job to pay back student loans.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at these guest posts from this week’s Pro Bono theme:

Volunteering with LiveHelp at LawHelp/NY

Abby Biberman writes:

LiveHelp provides up-to-date referral information on approximately 650 legal services projects and other helpful organizations throughout the state, along with over 3,000 Know Your Rights materials, self-help resources, and easily accessible court information; all fundamental requirements for access to justice. LiveHelp is an online, real-time chat service, staffed by myself and 49 volunteers, who direct users towards relevant self-help materials, legal assistance organizations and court information. Thousands of unrepresented New Yorkers come to the LawHelp/NY website looking for help with legal problems that require either a court or administrative hearing experience. They often feel overwhelmed and frightened about what will happen. LiveHelp connects these visitors with trained volunteers who can point the way towards resources written in plain language about their legal problem and/or help them identify a free legal aid organization for representation or more in-depth advice.

Find out the effect that Abbey’s work has had on young law students by reading the rest of her post here.

The Power of Thank You

Ben Weinberg writes:

Earlier this week, I received a thank you letter for SNR Denton’s work on a complex Pro Bono real estate transaction.

It’s always nice to be thanked.  And as SNR Denton’s Pro Bono Partner, I regularly receive thank you letters from Pro Bono clients.  But this one was really good.

Find out why it was so good, and read a story from Ben that is sure to bring tears to your eyes (unless you are truly a tin woodsman of a lawyer with no heart!) by checking out the rest of his post here.

Pro Bono: Just Do It

Lauren Teukolsky writes:

The importance of learning risk-taking cannot be understated.  Lawyers willing to take risks tend to get better outcomes for their clients.  Lawyers who are known for betting the farm have more leverage in settlement negotiations because opposing counsel doesn’t know whether the threat to go to trial is a bluff.  A willingness to take on matters that are new or frightening can lead to unexpected opportunities.  Lawyers who have a reputation for taking risks often get referred interesting high-stakes cases.

Take a risk and click here to find out how Lauren takes risks that have changed lives.

Thank You, Bill

Steven Schulman writes:

Ben is right:  we don’t say (or hear) “thank you” enough in the legal community.  The most neglected group may not be lawyers (by clients), or associates (by partners), or staff (by lawyers of all stripes), but rather mentors (by mentees).  This lack of gratitude is not intentional; it is accidental and systemic, because our best mentors do their jobs so well that we often do not realize until years later their substantial contributions to our development as lawyers, citizens, and human beings.

Be inspired by this touching story of personal gratitude.

Next Week on Martindale.com Connected …

Legal Hold Process

Corporate law departments have a duty to preserve evidence when they are notified that the company is being sued or when there is a reasonable chance the company is going to be sued. When this occurs, there are fairly strict tasks that must occur, otherwise, the company’s case is in jeopardy of being thrown out or a company may be fined by a judge. The first task that occurs is the issuing of a litigation or legal hold. Stay tuned for more details.

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