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41

Beyond the Cynicism:

Judges Can Help Lawyers and the Community

Through Pro Bono

By Hon. Bill Henry

A

judge steps into the courtroom on Monday morning for a

docket call. The civil docket is filled with pro se litigants

attempting to handle complex litigation without legal

help. They are dividing complex retirement benefits

“by agreement.” Pro se consumers are lined up against

represented parties. Some of the lawyers who do show up have little trial experience.

This scenario repeats itself day in and day out in courts across the nation. What are the long-term

implications of this situation for the practice of law and what can be done to help improve these issues?

Pro bono services may provide a way to alleviate some of these problems and move our profession

to a place in which benefiting the community is a primary goal. A number of lawyers, bar associations,

and law schools are taking the road less traveled to find practical ways to meet needs in the real

world and improve the profession by offering pro bono services. What about judges, though? What

role should they play in encouraging this process?

The Problem

Trial judges are acutely aware of several mega trends that are taking place in the legal profession.

First,

most lawyers cannot get trial experience. Without talented, experienced trial lawyers, the

Sixth and Seventh amendments of the Constitution lose their impact and offer less protection to

citizens who need it.

Second,

young lawyers are finding

it challenging to develop a practice in

which they represent real people with

real problems in court.

Third,

even experienced lawyers are

getting fewer and fewer opportunities to

hone their craft through trial experience.

Without this experience, lawyers may

find it difficult to represent their clients

effectively, obtain board certification or

grow their careers through membership

in organizations such as American Board

of Trial Advocates.

Fourth,

some courts are inundated with

pro se dockets and have no effective way

to insure justice to parties within ethical

guidelines.

Fifth

, law schools are struggling to find

Trial judges

are acutely

aware of

several mega

trends that are

taking place

in the legal

profession.