Paralegals and Legal Staff: Make a Difference Through Pro Bono

By Hazel Mottershead, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1960

Most nonprofit organizations are in need of lawyers but rarely ask specifically for assistance from legal support volunteers.

While there is no rule or law in California, or nationally, requiring paralegals and legal staff to volunteer, there is abundant literature in the field that makes the case for such work:

The American Bar Association’s Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services encourages lawyers to “facilitate paralegals’ involvement in pro bono activities.”

The National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA) Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Legal Assistants states, ”The working relationship between the lawyer and the paralegal should extend to cooperative efforts on public service activities wherever possible.”

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ (NFPA) Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Guidelines for Enforcement states, “A paralegal should aspire annually to contribute twenty-four (24) hours of Pro Bono Publico services under the supervision of an attorney or as authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to:

1. persons of limited means; or

2. charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the legal needs of persons with limited means; or

3. individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights.”

Working alongside attorneys on pro bono projects and pro bono litigation can be some of the most meaningful work experiences legal staff can have. You want to help, but where do you begin?

Here are some ideas on volunteering:

The Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco’s website lists non attorney volunteer opportunities for the following projects: Legal Advice and Referral Clinic; the Consumer Project; the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP); the Interpreter Project; the Medical-Legal Project; and Social Services. Email probono@sfbar.org for more information about each project, or visit: www.sfbar.org/jdc/legal-services/volunteering-non-attys.aspx.

• San Francisco Paralegal Association’s website lists local organizations accepting pro bono and volunteer assistance from paralegals and legal staff in the San Francisco Bay Area: www.sfpa.com/pro_bono

• Many large firms and companies have pro bono and/or volunteer coordinators. Let the attorneys you work with know you want to help on their pro bono projects and/or litigation.

• Call or email organizations you admire to ask how you can help. For example, organizations that rely on law students to staff legal clinics often have a hard time around finals. This is a great time for a team of paralegals and legal support staff to make a difference. Get a group of co-workers together and volunteer to staff the day.

With endless volunteer and opportunities locally and beyond, paralegals and legal staff can be powerful allies in pro bono work.

Hazel Mottershead is the paralegal manager for Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. Before getting into the legal industry as a paralegal, she worked as a teacher and coach for underserved high school students in the East Bay.