Legal Aid and Bar Leaders Celebrate and Strategize on Pro Bono

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On February 24, leaders of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, county bar associations and civil legal aid programs will meet at an invitation-only reception in University Park to discuss pro bono opportunities and successes across the state. Titled “Partnerships for Pro Bono,” the reception will be hosted by the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN), with the sponsorship of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law and the Pennsylvania Bar Association and will be held just before the start of the Conference of County Bar Leaders (CCBL) annual conference.

More than 100,000 low-income Pennsylvanians receive civil legal help each year through the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network and its member programs, but the need for legal representation vastly outstrips the supply of legal aid resources. Pro bono service from members of the Pa. Bar Association and local bar associations, and support from law school initiatives help to bridge the gap. This year, the reception will be held at the Penn State University, Dickinson School of Law’s Lewis Katz Building, allowing not only for an optimal setting but also for Penn State to showcase its new law school facility.

PLAN is the statewide association of civil legal aid programs. Together, these programs provide crucial representation to low income clients, in key areas such as protection against domestic violence, saving homes from foreclosure, avoiding utility shutoffs, and saving health care benefits. But even so, recent studies show that for each person represented by a civil legal aid program, another person, eligible for services and actually contacting a legal aid office for help, has to be turned away due to lack of resources. Through pro bono representation, some who are turned away are now helped, and more could be.

Gerald McHugh, President of the PLAN, Inc. board, observed, “we are especially pleased with the timing of this year’s event in light of the January 7 letter to Pennsylvania attorneys, issued by Chief Justice Castille, ‘urging every Pennsylvania attorney to take at least one new pro bono matter or to continue to work on an ongoing pro bono matter through a legal aid provider or organized pro bono program’ or to ‘make a donation to support your local or statewide civil legal aid and pro bono programs.’”

Penn State President Graham Spanier will deliver the welcoming address and will highlight some of the law school initiatives which promote a pro bono ethic. Spanier commented, “We know that our law school students are well aware of the challenges now faced by many Pennsylvanians, who are looking for work and fighting to survive. It is important to the educational process and to their futures that we encourage them, and help teach them how they can offer public service, through their pro bono help to clients, no matter what field of law they pursue.”

Pennsylvania Bar Association President Gretchen Mundorff has made pro bono services one of her key initiatives during her presidency. Under her leadership, the hundreds of lawyers who are members of the PBA’s Board of Governors and House of Delegates have committed to handling at least one pro bono case each year.

“Especially during these times of high unemployment, and with many people at risk of losing their homes, I greatly look forward to this partnership reception as an opportunity to further explore and discuss ways in which lawyers from across the state can help meet the urgent legal needs of low-income Pennsylvanians,” Mundorff said. “Lawyers from every area of legal practice have historically provided assistance when and where it is needed, and I am confident the next generation of lawyers will also answer the call to service.”

Penn State Dickinson School of Law has previously sponsored PLAN events tied to CCBL since 2008. All of these events were very well received and have helped promote new and improved pro bono initiatives around the state. Those in attendance will be provided folders with relevant statistics on cases and needs for legal services, other materials relevant to pro bono and legal services and information about Penn State and its law student programs.

The 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. reception format will allow for about 150 legal aid attorneys, law students, and bar leaders to attend. Law students will also provide guided tours of the facility.

Those in attendance will include: Presidents, vice presidents and other leaders of county bar associations; executive directors of county bar associations; legal services leaders; judicial leaders; Pennsylvania Bar Association current, past and future presidents and other leadership, including Board of Governors members; the chair of the PBA Young Lawyers Division; representatives of Penn State University and The Dickinson School of Law; and other distinguished attendees at the CCBL conference.

The Outcomes anticipated from this event are: 1) The continued establishment of good will toward Penn State Dickinson School of Law, and an introduction for many to the new law school campus; 2) promotion of a pro bono ethic; and 3) actual articulation of pro bono initiatives, involving legal services, the bar, and law schools. The opportunity for dialogue and planning is tremendous. Responses from the past three events have shown this event to be very well received and productive.

A new and added value to the 2011 event, tied to Penn State Law’s sponsorship, is the auto-enrolling of all Penn State Law students as members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and on the PAProbono.net professional website. There will also be the opportunity for selected Penn State Law students to attend the CCBL conference and educational sessions on the following day, at no cost.

Sam Milkes, Executive Director of PLAN, commented, “Access to justice is essential not only to our system of justice, but also to the quality of life in our state. The partnership with Penn State Law and the PBA provides the opportunity to engage current and next generations of lawyers in efforts to bridge the justice gap, as well as increase the visibility and success of legal aid.”


Media Contacts:

Samuel W. Milkes, Esq. Executive Director
Pa. Legal Aid Network, Inc.
1-800-322-7572, ext. 208

Kate Lawrence
Director of Public Interest Programming and Attorney, Children's Advocacy Clinic
Penn State University Dickinson School of Law
717-240-5210

Jeff Gingerich
Communications Manager
Pennsylvania Bar Association
717-238-6715, ext 2216