The National Celebration of Pro Bono has been an American Bar Association tradition since 2009. Each October, the ABA encourages organizations to host events recognizing pro bono volunteers and highlighting opportunities for pro bono work, according to their website.
This year’s celebration is from Oct. 20-26. But some states — including Virginia — have extended the celebration to a month-long event.
“Pro bono work expresses the highest ideals of the legal profession, and makes a significant contribution to access to justice and the Rule of Law,” wrote Gov. Ralph Northam in a 2019 proclamation.
Taking a cue from the Rules of Professional Conduct, Northam encourages all lawyers to dedicate 2% of their professional services to pro bono work every year to help lessen Virginia’s “justice gap,” or the difference between the level of legal assistance available and the amount that is necessary to meet the needs of low-income people.
“If Virginia lawyers were in compliance with this aspirational goal, we should be providing over 900,000 hours of pro bono,” according to the VSB website.
According to the Virginia State Bar, there are 160 legal aid lawyers in Virginia, meaning there is one legal aid lawyer per 7,237 low-income individuals statewide. As a result, 48% of low- and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year.
Crista Gantz, access to legal services director at the VSB, said the best way for attorneys to celebrate this month is by taking on at least one pro bono case through tools such as JusticeServer, an online service that connects lawyers to needy clients.
“It’s easier than ever now to browse what’s available online to find a [pro bono] case that meets their interest and experience,” Gantz said.
The annual Pro Bono Celebration highlights a specific civil rights need every year. The 2019 celebration will focus on the need for legal assistance for domestic and sexual violence survivors, said ABA President Judy Perry Martinez.
“Celebrate Pro Bono 2019 has mobilized the legal profession to help survivors in matters such as protective orders, child custody and child support,” Martinez said.
Celebration events throughout Virginia will be held by legal aid organizations throughout the month. For example, on Oct. 24, the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation is hosting a Triage practice group training event followed by a pro bono celebration.
Lawyers can review the VSB’s Precipitating Change Through Pro Bono brochure to find out more about pro bono opportunities in Virginia.