Our Duty to Assist Those in Need
Armando E. Batastini, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association
While the Bar Association makes efforts to help as many as possible, much more is needed. We are not able to fulfill all of the requests for pro bono representation, particularly in family law and bankruptcy.
|This past year was the thirtieth anniversary of the Rhode Island Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Program. The Bar Association celebrated this milestone with a reception at the Law Center on October 27, 2016. RI Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell, Rhode Island Legal Services Executive Director Robert Barge, and Christine Engustian, chairperson of the Bar Association Public Services Committee, spoke. Each expressed similar sentiments, emphasizing the critical need for volunteer pro bono representation and recognizing the substantial contribution that the Bar Association makes providing these much needed services. Rhode Island Legal Services also presented the Bar Association with a beautiful crystal memento marking this anniversary, which is greatly appreciated.
Great credit for these efforts goes to the Bar Association staff, and most particularly, Public Services Director Susan Fontaine and her team. The Bar Association has five full-time staff members whose sole responsibility is the intake and placement of these cases. The Bar Association receives well over 1,000 requests for representation each month, and we are able to place a fair percentage of these matters as a result of the staff’s remarkable efforts.
Of course, none of this would be possible without our volunteer lawyers. Rhode Island lawyers contributed over 3,000 hours of pro bono services last year. We have some attorneys who routinely provide over 100 hours of pro bono legal representation per year. All told, the Bar Association, through the Volunteer Lawyer Program and its other pro bono programs, is the single largest source of volunteer pro bono legal services in the state. Making this fact more remarkable, most of our volunteer lawyers are small firm and solo practitioners, so their pro bono contributions directly impact their bottom line.
While the Bar Association makes efforts to help as many as possible, much more is needed. We are not able to fulfill all of the requests for pro bono representation, particularly in family law and bankruptcy. I therefore encourage every member to take on pro bono cases. Even if you are not a litigator, the Bar staff will find a pro bono matter that aligns with your expertise.
While all lawyers should participate in pro bono because it is the right thing to do, I remind Bar members that it is also our ethical obligation to do so. Specifically, Rule 6.1 of the Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct obligates all Bar members to “render at least 50 hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”
Providing pro bono services also provides tangible benefits. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a lawyer is participating in the Volunteer Lawyer Program. As a new associate, pro bono representation provided me with valuable trial work that I otherwise would not have experienced. When opportunities thereafter arose to handle other litigation, I could plausibly hold myself out as having the skills and experience necessary for those matters. I add that the Bar Association offers a mentorship program as part of the Volunteer Lawyer Program, so that newer lawyers can work on types of matters that are new to them with the assistance of an experienced lawyer.
The best reward, however, is the genuine gratitude that pro bono clients provide, knowing that someone is there for them, and the satisfaction of making a difference for people who truly need help.