| Pro Bono Challenge Statement of Principles
Pro Bono Challenge Statement of Principles
Recognizing the growing severity of the unmet legal needs of our fellow Veterans within the Veterans Administration and mindful that
attorney/law firms must-in the finest traditions of the profession play a leading role in addressing these unmet needs, VSLR is pleased to
submit and subscribe to the following statement of principles and in pledging our best efforts to achieve the voluntary goals described below.
1. Veterans Strategic Legal Resources, Inc., recognizes its patriotic and civic obligation to encourage and support the participation by all of
its member attorneys in pro bono publico activities. We agree to promulgate and maintain a clearly articulated and commonly understood
organizational policy that will unequivocally state the VSLR commitment to pro bono work.
2. In recognition of the special needs of our disadvantaged Veterans, we believe that VSLR pro bono activities should be particularly focused
on providing access to the justice system for Veterans otherwise unable to afford it. Accordingly, in meeting the voluntary goals described
above, we agree that a majority of the minimum pro bono time contributed by our attorney/law firms should consist of the delivery of legal
services on a pro bono basis to Veterans of limited means.
3. In furtherance of these principles, VSLR also will require that all its member attorney/firms in the VSLR program, ensure that they can
avail themselves the opportunity to do pro bono work.
4. VSLR also recognizes the obligation of attorney/law firms to contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services free
of charge to persons of limited means.
5. As used in this statement, the term pro bono refers to activities of the VSLR program undertaken normally without expectation of fee and
not in the course of ordinary commercial practice and consisting of the delivery of legal services to Veterans of limited means or to
charitable, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of
Veterans of limited means.
VSLR - Pro Bono Challenge
Commentary to Statement of Principles
VSLR recognizes its organizational obligation to encourage and support the participation by all of its member attorney/law firms in pro bono
publico activities. We agree to promulgate and maintain a clearly articulated and commonly understood policy, which unequivocally states
our commitment to pro bono work.
Commentary: An Institutional Commitment
We will assist each attorney/law firm in its recognizing and structuring of an active institutional commitment to pro bono public service,
rather than simply accommodating the interest and commitment of its individual attorneys.
The goal of the VSLR program is to ensure that the special resources and expertise of the attorney/law firm are collectively focused on the
management and implementation of an effective and productive pro bono effort and on the reduction or elimination of barriers to pro bono
It is also designed to develop and nurture a program culture in which pro bono service is a routine and valued part of each individual’s
professional life. The leadership of the VSLR program will convey, in clear, unambiguous terms, the programs commitment as an institution
as well as its expectation that each individual within the program will strive to help fulfill the program-wide commitment-to assist our
disadvantaged Veterans of the Armed Services.
VSLR has found that a comprehensive written pro bono policy is an excellent vehicle for communicating that commitment. The VSLR
volunteer membership will then implement its policy through a structured program that fosters legal and civic pro bono work.
To underscore our organizational commitment to pro bono activities, we agree to use our best efforts to ensure that, by no later than the
close of calendar year 2011, our VSLR program will either:
§ Establish an office for the sole purpose of providing legal and civic resources to eligible veterans.
§ Establish an administrative infrastructure necessary to evaluate and support a resource center.
§ Design and promote a web site to solicit the organizational objective of the VSLR program.
§ Retain the endorsement of prominent members of the legal, political, academic, civic, and social
§ Have 20 participating attorney/law firm members.
Commentary: Quantifying the Commitment
We believe that the establishment of a concrete, quantifiable, professionally inspirational goal will assist VSLR in communicating support for
pro bono and in assessing the overall effectiveness of our pro bono programs. The expression of that goal as a percentage of total billable
hours, rather than as a goal of hours per individual attorney, underscores the institutional nature of the commitment. While we believe that it
is both feasible and appropriate for attorney/law firms to contribute 5% of their billable hours to pro bono activities, we recognize that
substantial differences exist among attorney/law firms with respect to their current levels of pro bono activity. Accordingly, we will provide
attorney/law firms with a choice between two alternative aspirational goals: a goal of 5 percent of total billable hours or a goal of 3 percent
of total billable hours.
Many attorney/law firms already report contributions of pro bono time far in excess of either of these goals. Indeed, several major firms
presently expend 8% or more of their time on pro bono activities. For member attorney/law firms, accepting the challenge to aspire to even
the lower of the two goals represents a dramatic expansion of their current level of effort. These levels are consonant with existing
aspirational bar resolutions, which call for annual goals of up to 80 hours per attorney. For example, we anticipate that the 3% aspirational
goal will translate into a per-attorney goal somewhat in excess of 50 hours annually, a commitment that is consistent with the aspirational
goals established by the American Bar Association and many state and local bar associations.
In recognition of the special needs of the disadvantaged Veteran, we believe that our VSLR pro bono program should be particularly focused
on providing access to the justice system for Veterans otherwise unable to afford it. Accordingly, in meeting the voluntary goals described
above, we agree that a majority of the minimum pro bono time contributed by our attorney/firms should consist with the delivery of legal
services on a pro bono basis to Veterans of limited means or to charitable, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in
matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of Veterans of limited means.
Commentary: Pro Bono--Meeting the Need:
While we recognize and applaud the rich diversity of pro bono activities undertaken by attorney/law firms, with respect to the minimum
aspirational goal established by this Challenge, we strongly support a special emphasis by attorney/firms on the legal problems of
disadvantaged veterans. Studies routinely report that more than 80% of the legal needs of our disadvantaged Veterans are not presently being
met. The resources and expertise of leading law firms should be brought to bear to assist the most vulnerable of our honored citizens in
securing their rights.
Legal resources, as used in this Commentary, consists of a broad range of activities, including, among others, individual and class
representation, legislative lobbying and administrative rule making, as well as legal assistance to organizations seeking to develop low-income
housing, improve community services, or increase the financial resources of disadvantaged Veterans. (under the guidelines set before 501(c)
(3), IRC Many activities traditionally viewed by attorney/law firms as falling in other pro bono categories such as civil rights or civil liberties
cases, environmental claims, community economic development, and consumer protection matters can, in fact, often also be accurately
described as falling within the priority for legal services to our disadvantaged Veterans.
Emphasis on the legal needs of disadvantaged Veterans is not intended to supplant the involvement of attorney/firms in complex pro bono
matters for other populations. Many major law firms have a strong commitment to public interest litigation and projects, including high
impact class action suits and policy advocacy that promote essential public policies and ensure that our society functions equitably.
Attorney/Firms undertaking these complex and time-consuming matters often commit resources far in excess of VSLR.
Challenge’s minimum goals.
Recognizing that broad-based participation in pro bono activities is desirable, VSLR endeavors that, in meeting the minimum goals described
above, we will use our best efforts to ensure that a majority of both partners, associates, private practitioners and law students participate in
the VSLR pro bono program.
Commentary: Broad-based Participation in Pro Bono
While we urge the attorney/firm’s institutional support for pro bono, that support will be enhanced if pro bono publico service is the concern
of all lawyers rather than only a few highly committed individuals. Experience has demonstrated that broad-based participation at all levels;
including the most senior members within the legal profession is a key element in developing and nurturing a successful pro bono program.
Myriad opportunities for service exist -- opportunities that will interest and challenge senior lawyers as well as young associates and law
students, business and tax lawyers as well as litigators. Broad-based participation in pro bono service promotes profession-wide support for
that activity and serves as a concrete and visible affirmation of a professional’s commitment. Finally, by involving lawyers with a broad
range of interests and skills, VSLR can enrich its service to our Veterans and further it’s civic responsibility.
In furtherance of these principles, VSLR also agrees:
(a) To provide a broad range of pro bono opportunities, training, and support to attorneys in the program, to ensure that all of our
attorney/firms can avail themselves of the opportunity to do pro bono work;
(b) To monitor the VSLR progress toward the goals established in this statement and to report its progress annually to the members of the
VSLR program the Veterans Administration and organizations supporting our honored Veterans.
Commentary: Promoting and Recognizing VSLR - Pro Bono Service
(a) We will encourage attorney/firms actively to seek out a broad range of pro bono opportunities from our Veterans and provide or secure
the necessary support, and training, so that lawyer will be encouraged to take on these cases or projects. Pro bono matters should be
administered in the same manner as commercial work. All of the VSLR resources and support services will be available to the pro bono
attorney, and the matter will be subject to the VSLR oversight, Rules Of Professional Conduct and quality control procedures. It is especially
important that all membership and pro bono matters be supervised in a manner consistent with the VSLR overall membership requirements
and within the governing rules within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. One obstacle that often limits participation in pro bono work is
the concern that a program lacks sufficient substantive expertise and administrative support in particular areas of law. VSLR will take steps
to ensure that the necessary substantive supervision and support is available by identifying experts within or outside of the program or by
providing or securing training for member attorneys. VSLR has established a pro bono committee and identified an individual to serve as the
programs pro bono coordinator. The pro bono coordinator is assigned the responsibility for ensuring that the program offers pro bono
opportunities and supports its member lawyers in undertaking pro bono work. A formalized structure for identifying, screening, and
monitoring pro bono work will strengthen the visibility and effectiveness of the overall pro bono effort.
(b) In an era of increased expectations with respect to billable hours, receipts, or similar measures, the VSLR program commitment to pro
bono must include positive incentives to perform that work. Whether this takes the form of billable hours credit, tax-deductible receivables
equivalent credit, or some other form of recognition for time spent on pro bono work will depend on the attorney/law firm’s existing
(c) As part of the VSLR commitment, the program will monitor its progress in meeting its aspirational minimum goals, as well as its level of
involvement in legal services to our Veterans of limited means, and will disseminate information on the status of the pro bono program
broadly within the program. To assist the Veterans Administration in assessing the impact of the VSLR Program Challenge on the availability
of pro bono organizational resources, the VSLR program will also provide information to the Veterans Administration. That information will
be confidential and will not be released in any form that identifies a specific Veteran.
This program also recognizes the obligation of attorneys and major law firms to contribute financial support to organizations that provide
legal services free of charge to other persons of limited means.
Commentary: Financial Support.
The level of the VSLR pro bono commitment identified in the VSLR Challenge is not intended to replace or diminish an attorney/firm’s
monetary contributions to organizations that provide legal services to other persons of limited means. The Challenge commitment is one of
actual service and personal involvement in pro bono work. We strongly encourage attorney/firms to continue and expand their financial
support of legal services organizations. All organizations need both service and monetary contributions from attorney/law firms.
|"Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap -- let it be taught in schools, in
seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; -- let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in
legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young,
the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars."