Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why I Do Pro Bono Work

Here at the Bar Association, we're incredibly fortunate to have a great group of attorneys who work with our Pro Bono program, the Pikes Peak Pro Bono Project, to provide access to justice to those in our community with limited means or who are indigent.  One of our most active attorneys, Jon Hertzog, recently penned a short piece about why he does Pro Bono work.  It so described our culture of Pro Bono work, and truly captured why we do what we do, that we wanted to share it with all of you.  Enjoy.

Why do I take Pro Bono cases?
To give you a good answer I have to go back in time.  It all started in 1963, as an eight year-old kid, I sat in a movie theater spellbound by the great Stanley Kramer Oscar winning movie, Judgment at Nuremberg.  I watched a lawyer and a judge, played by actors Richard Widmark and Spencer Tracy, speak for those who couldn’t speak for themselves…the victims of Nazi persecution.  I decided then and there I wanted to be that man…Richard Widmark…the lawyer who makes a difference in people’s lives and makes justice available to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it.  

Jump forward 37 years.  After a really fun 25 year career as an Army Officer, I was given the opportunity to go to law school and I jumped on it.  Now I am a lawyer and living my childhood dream through my Pro Bono work.  No Nazi victims but the people I represent are generally under great personal stress, disparate, and feel they have nowhere to turn.  They need a Richard Widmark…they need you and me.
Pro Bono work is a precious privilege we have been given as lawyers to make a difference in peoples’ lives, our community, and our society.  Money is an important thing.  We all need it to pay our bills and send our kids to college.  But there is no amount of money that can give you the same feeling of satisfaction, value and personal accomplishment you get when one of you Pro Bono clients gives you heartfelt and tearful thanks for the help you have given her and her family. 

 In the four years or so I have been doing Pro Bono work, I have learned two things that most people don’t know:  (1) there is a whole disadvantaged segment of our community, out of sight and out of mind, who are silent, suffering and desperately need advice and guidance from an attorney.  These people will never gain access to legal advice and the legal system unless you and I make that happen through our Pro Bono work; and (2) contrary to what you may have heard or believe, on an individual basis, we lawyers are widely respected and held in great esteem, particularly by those less fortunate among us.  In talking with my Pro Bono clients, I am constantly humbled by the reverence I am shown.  I am no Earl Warren but my Pro Bono clients make me feel like I am.  They will make you feel that way too.

I want to ask each of you to think back on that day when you graduated from law school.  Recall your Richard Widmark moment of that day.  We all had it or we wouldn’t have made it through law school. That determination as a new lawyer to get out there and make a difference…to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.  You can still make that happen.  It will make you a better person and a better lawyer.  Call Mary Ann Corey or Colorado Legal Services and volunteer to take on a Pro Bono case or participate in one of the many Pro Bono programs we have in El Paso County.  It will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.

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