YET MORE ON MANDATORY PRO BONO

September 27, 2010 § 3 Comments

The only thing I am hearing on mandatory pro bono (MPB) from lawyers in east Mississippi is stony silence.  You would think that a measure with so many ramifications for lawyers, particularly small-town lawyers of which we have many, would provoke a major reaction.

Meanwhile, down the board, you will find an earlier post and some insightful comments from lawyers in other parts of the state on the subject, the latest from John Gillis in Water Valley, who makes some points that deserve your consideration. 

Although I think Mr. Gillis and others make some valid and even persuasive points, I do disagree with their argument that MPB constitutes a form of involuntary servitude.  In my opinion, that argument is is based on a business-model view of the legal profession, a view that is incomplete and incorrect.  The law is a profession and not a business.  Lawyers have a duty to the administration of justice. 

The Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct states:  “A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”  [Emphasis added]  It goes on to say:  “As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession … A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance.  Therefore all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civil influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.”  [Emphasis added]     

Mr. Gillis is perhaps too young to remember the days when all lawyers were subject to that infamous telephone call from the Circuit Judge to come defend an indigent prisoner.  That practice persisted until counties began hiring public defenders to do the job.  Back then I did not know a single attorney who refused the judge on the ground that the requirement was a form of Marxism (as Mr. Gillis characterizes it).  Those of us who were fairly competent accepted the burden as an obligation of the profession, not always gladly I assure you, but always with the understanding that it was our professional responsibility. 

I also do not understand the significance of the point that no other state has MPB.  How does that matter?

As for the other arguments, I think they are sound and need to be considered.  I am not sold on the idea of MPB, although I do lean toward it as a solution to a major problem facing the courts and the bar. 

It does seem to me that two things are necessary before a final decision is made on MPB:  First, much more study needs to be done; and second, many more lawyers’ voices’ need to be heard.  The silence on the subject is baffling to me.

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