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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Once More, With Feeling!

Immm baaaccckk!!” Who can forget this memorable line uttered by Randy Quaid in the movie, Independence Day?  Like Quaid, the topic of pro bono may echo that unforgettable phrase as I address it in this month’s column.

Pro Bono Month

It should be no surprise to anyone that an attorney who is employed by a Civil Legal Service program would want to focus on pro bono.  Quickly reviewing back issues of Bench & Bar, I see that the three presidents immediately preceding me each wrote their October President’s Page article on the topic of pro bono.  October is considered pro bono month and, specifically, this year the American Bar Association has designated the third week in October, October 21st through the 27th, as Pro Bono Week. The ABA annually designates one week in October as Pro Bono Week in an attempt to coordinate efforts nationwide to meet the ever-growing needs of our country’s most vulnerable citizens.  The ABA initiative encourages and supports local efforts to expand the delivery of pro bono legal services.  The primary focus of the effort is to showcase the great difference that pro bono lawyers make to the nation, its system of justice, its communities, and most of all, to the clients they serve.

The Minnesota State Bar Association is also very involved in efforts to meet the ever-growing needs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.  The MSBA is behind a number of different initiatives to help celebrate Pro Bono Week, all designed to provide additional pro bono opportunities and incentives for attorneys.  One such program is an MSBA-sponsored CLE program entitled Real Faces of Pro Bono.  The program will be held on October 24th at 12:30 p.m. at Faegre Baker Daniels in downtown Minneapolis.  Briefly, the program will be about an hour long with time for volunteer recruitment afterwards.  Chief Justice Lorie Gildea will open the program with brief remarks, after which three pairs of attorneys and clients will talk about the importance and value of their work together, intending to demonstrate through their stories the importance of this type of work and compel attorneys to get involved.

North Star Lawyer Program

A separate MSBA-sponsored initiative aimed at providing increased pro bono services is the newly created North Star Lawyer Program.  The program encourages lawyers to perform pro bono service by recognizing those who provide 50 hours of pro bono services a year.  As the program’s recruitment brochure states,

Lawyers who serve the poor without charge should be celebrated.  By generously donating their time and talent, they change lives.  They help people who otherwise could not afford counsel achieve justice.

Every member who reports 50 hours of voluntary service to low-income clients will be recognized by the Minnesota State Bar Association as a “North Star Lawyer” and will be included on an annual roster published in Bench & Bar.  They will also receive a certificate suitable for framing and will be invited to a gala event honoring all the “North Star Lawyers.”  The MSBA is proud to recognize members who meet or exceed their aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono services a year, as given in Rule 6.1 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct. I would encourage anyone who may be interested in learning more about the program to log onto the MSBA website at www.mnbar.org and, in the search box, type in North Star Lawyer. It really is that easy.

Additional Efforts

The MSBA has other initiatives that can aid anyone who wishes to participate in pro bono and help those who need the help most.  One very helpful program is ProJusticeMN.org, a partnership of the MSBA and the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition. ProJusticeMN.org is Minnesota’s online resource for poverty law advocates.  The website provides legal resources for those assisting low-income and disadvantaged clients, including forms, pleadings, and soup-to-nuts process guides.  The site’s Start-to-Finish Criminal Expungement tool recently received a national pro bono innovation award. The website also hosts a calendar of poverty law CLEs and lists organizations and cases in need of volunteers. A new case-placement feature allows programs to post cases needing a volunteer and enables pro bono lawyers to receive email alerts when a case is posted that meets their geographic and substantive criteria.

MSBA has long participated in and supported efforts to meet the tremendous need for pro bono volunteers.  One such effort led to the adoption by the Minnesota Supreme Court of the aspirational pro bono standard of 50 hours of pro bono service per year, which was modeled after the national Pro Bono Challenge.  A different effort led to adoption of a court rule that provides for one hour of CLE credit for every six hours of pro bono services rendered.  A current MSBA initiative is to modify the CLE requirements for emeritus and in-house counsel to allow retired attorneys and in-house counsel to provide pro bono services to low-income individuals, something that is now prohibited.

Now I hope you understand the title of this page.  The MSBA understands the vital importance of pro bono work in ensuring access to justice and the ever-expanding need for such volunteer work.  The MSBA is proud of its members who regularly volunteer to aid those in need and encourages all other members to discover the satisfaction involved in volunteering much-needed services.  Pro bono services for those who cannot afford legal help heads the list of bar association priorities, and will be repeated over and over until there is equal access to justice for one and all.

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Robert F. Enger

Bob was president of the Minnesota State Bar Association from 2012-2013. A son of northern Minnesota, he serves as Supervising Attorney for Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, based in Bemidji, and is the first legal services attorney to serve as MSBA President.