Pro Bono, Pro Deo or Both?

"A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should...provide a substantial majority of the...hours without fee or expectation of fee to persons of limited means...In addition, a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means."
     American Bar Association, Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 6.1, amended 1992

"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.... Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them."
     Proverbs 14:31,22:22-23

"Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.."
     The Teachings of Jesus, Luke 12:33-34

"...Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers."
     The Teachings of Jesus, Luke 11:46

Consider Two Advertisements:

"Lawyer wanted! Must desire income in excess of $100,000. Apply on the 38th floor.

"Lawyer wanted! Must desire income not to exceed $30,000. Apply in the basement"

It May Be Pro Bono For Some Attorneys

In a legal profession where the twin "gods" of personal autonomy and financial security have finally become for too many the measure of all things, it is easy to see why the elevator to the 38th floor will be jammed, but the steps leading to the basement floor of legal aid and voluntary service will echo with very little traffic. And so it is now estimated that only 15-20% of the civil legal needs of the poor are being met, even though their legal problems often involve questions concerning access to the necessities of life. This problem is complicated by the fact that although most lawyers donate some free services, little of it involves representation of indigents. Some reports indicate that while as many as sixteen percent (16%) of the nations more than 920,000 lawyers participate in pro bono services for the poor, only about six (6%) percent of lawyer time is pro bono, much of it devoted to service to charities rather than direct service to poor people.

Historically, the organized bar has responded to this problem by supporting federal funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), establishing Interest on Lawyer's Trust Account (IOLTA) programs in which the interest paid is used to help fund legal services programs, and by intensifying voluntary private attorney pro bono efforts. Although these efforts are certainly commendable, they were already insufficient to meet the increasing need for legal representation since Congress has progressively reduced LSC's budget appropriation from $400 million (FY 1994) to $275 million (FY 2000) dollars. So where do we go from here?

For many good legal and pragmatic reasons, no state or federal bar association yet mandates pro bono assistance to the poor as a condition for practicing law. The American Bar Association (ABA) and many state bar associations have adopted voluntary pro bono "aspirations" like those set forth in Model Rule 6.1 above. In response to questions about what the legal profession could do to promote a more positive public perception of attorneys, forty-three (43%) percent of the people surveyed by the ABA said that providing pro bono legal services would improve the public image of the legal profession. Indeed, one writer characterizes pro bono as "a vaccine which can render a lawyer immune to lawyers jokes and ... reverse the negative, distorted image which many people, including lawyers themselves, have of the legal profession."

Let it be Pro Bono & Pro Deo for the Christian Legal Society

But for the Christian lawyer, the issue is not so much about pro bono aspirations or improving our professional image. It's more about the pro Deo duty we owe to God.

Isn't it the biblical duty of the Christian lawyer to love and voluntarily seek to defend the "poor," the "needy," the "weak," and the fatherless? "(Ps 82:3,Pr. 31:9). Shouldn't our heroes be Joseph as he teaches his jealous brothers that what they meant for "evil" against him, God meant it for good in order to save as many people as possible. (Gen.50:20); or Moses as he faces down the powers of his day who refused to "let God's people go;" or David against Goliath ('let no man's heart fail because of him, your servant will go and fight this Philistine," 1 Sam. 17:32); or Daniel in the Lion's Den (O King, live forever! Dan, 6:16-24), or the apostles Peter and John before their accusers ("We ought to obey God, rather than men," Acts 4:19-20,5:29), or the lawyer Paul before the magistrates and emperors of the Roman Empire. (Acts 16, 22,23,28; Phil 1:6,12-14). And isn't there a duty for the Christian lawyer to willingly respond to the summons and example of Jesus Christ, the supreme defender of the "least of these, " who even now advocates and represents us before our Father in heaven?

Here's How You can Find Out More about CLS' Legal Aid Program

If your answers to any of these biblically-based questions are in the affirmative, be inspired by the attorneys you meet who want to provide Christian legal services for the poor and please take the time to complete and return the CLS QUESTIONNAIRE FOR CHRISTIAN LAWYERS, LAW STUDENTS OR PARALEGALS.

Here is What Christian Legal Aid is all About

CLS started its Christian Legal Aid Program (CLAP) precisely to respond to God's Call to lawyers to do pro Deo work on behalf of the "least of these" our brethren. Matthew 25:40; Luke 11:46.

CLAP encourages and trains Christian volunteers--lawyers and other legal professionals-- to help remove key legal and other impediments to a fuller life for the poor and homeless through legal and spiritual counseling and legal intervention to prevent or mitigate the consequences of the wrongful denial of jobs, of housing, of food, of medical and of other benefits. Significantly, the preservation of families and services benefiting women and children occupy more than one-half of these voluntary efforts.

The seven basic purposes of CLS' Christian Legal Services Program (CLAP) are to experiment, develop and use innovative methods of employing: (1) expert interdisciplinary locally controlled and operated volunteer legal aid help for the poor being served through an established faith-based community social service provider like a facility associated with the Salvation Army, the International Union of Gospel Missions, or other faith-oriented social service providers; (2) legal and spiritual advice and counseling of CLAP clients and volunteers which seeks to address unmet root causes, as well as more immediate causes of poverty; (3) rehabilitation of the needy in body, mind and spirit; (4) raising up general advocates for the poor who are committed to justly alleviating the true and broader causes of the poverty, where possible; (5) training volunteers how to conduct a CLAP; (6) legally and spiritually equipping, mentoring and assisting young lawyers and law students in the context of the moral obligation to help the poor; and (7) nurturing and strengthening the vocational, spiritual and familial lives of CLAP volunteers to more effectively serve the poor, the homeless, and their families.

CLAP volunteers also try to block improper and sometimes illegal government interference with families and improper enforcement of offenses that are often targeted against the poor, the homeless and the disabled. Self-help group clinics encouraged by CLAP also provide education, instruction and training in the use (by those able to do so), of self-help legal and other remedies for simple, commonly encountered situations or problems as a part of a CLS recommended "Layman's Christian law school" in many communities. More importantly, CLAP attempts a "jugular" approach to attacking poverty that uniquely seeks to effectively address the impaired spiritual, legal and inter-personal relationships and other root causes that commonly contribute to, produce or continue indigence and homelessness. These underlying difficulties often result in disruptive legal symptoms and repetitive legal problems.

The volunteer lawyers (who are asked to contribute no more than 4 hours per month) in a typical Christian legal services project (usually conducted through a faith-based social service provider like the Salvation Army or the local Gospel Mission) provide advice, counsel and limited legal and related help to those being interviewed in developing plans to overcome the immediate and future similar problems. They also generally refer matters requiring more than a consultation to legal aid societies, public defenders and other volunteer "case lawyers" associated with the CLAP, where possible. Knowledgeable volunteers estimate that 50% to 70% of the problems can usually be successfully resolved or beneficially impacted as a result of such interviews.1

Here's Why CLS has Developed our Christian Legal Aid Program

CLS has developed CLAP to help people as a faith-based alternative to traditional legal aid programs for four basic reasons:

  • First, Scriptures teaches it and Jesus Christ commands it to be done by His followers. Proverbs 29:7,31-8-9; Matthew 23:23, 25:31-40; Luke 4:18-19, 12:32-33.
  • Second, faith-based social service agencies, supported by community volunteers, are reported to be most efficient and effective in helping clients get back on their feet.2
  • Third, current legal aid resources are already insufficient3 and are being further threatened by reduced federal appropriations for the Legal Services Corporation and the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Phillips v. Washington Legal Foundation, __U.S.__, 118 S. Ct. 1925 (June 15, 1998), holding that interest on lawyer's trust accounts is the client's private property and, therefore, may not be taken by the state to pay for legal aid to the poor without the client's approval or state legislation that could be found constitutional under the provision of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution which provides that "private property" shall not "be taken for public use, without just compensation."
  • Fourth, CLS has found that its Christian Legal Aid Program provides one of the best ways and means to improve the spiritual lives of both the lawyers and the clients who participate in a CLAP program. Jesus strongly instructed the lawyers of His day: "Woe to you, lawyers, you lay burdens on men too hard to bear and you lift not even a finger to help them. Luke 11:46. The Old Testament teaches: "He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.... Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 14:31,22:22-23

As we work together pro Bono and pro Deo to build new voluntary Christian legal services programs or maintain existing programs in every community where CLS members live, let us trust God to provide for the needed resources and teach us daily how to work for the common good of all.

God knows its right and good!

1A recent very rigorous limited study of the new CLAP at a local site in mid 1998 tended to confirm those figures and reported that approximately 85% of those interviewed received legal and/or spiritual assistance; and that 75% were open to discussing underlying causes and possible solutions to the root causes of their legal problems with the lawyer.

2While faith-based legal aid does not yet qualify for government funding, other faith-based social service providers are now qualifying for government funding without having to sacrifice their faith-based identity under the "Charitable Choice" provisions of the 1996 Federal Welfare Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. §604a. The mobilization of faith-based social service providers using funding authorized by such "charitable choice" provisions currently enjoys bipartisan support.

3As reported by the New York Times, August 17,2000, "Many of the of the nation's biggest law firms -- inundated with more business than they can often handle and pressing lawyers to raise their billable hours to pay escalating salaries - have cut back on pro bono work so sharply that they fall far below professional guidelines for representing people who cannot. The roughly 50,000 lawyers at the nation's 100 highest-grossing firms spent an average of just eight minutes a day on pro bono cases in 1999, according to a survey by American Lawyer magazine. That comes out to about 36 hours a year, down significantly from 56 hours in 1992, when the magazine started tracking firms' volunteer hours."