I think virtually any charitable contribution – of money or services – should count toward the lawyer’s pro bono obligation. Tying and confining the definition of pro bono to legal services – either financial support for or performing pro bono services – ignores the immense value to society of the virtually limitless ways in which people choose to be charitable, to help those less fortunate, to make their communities better, to support scientific research, local soup kitchens, battered women’s shelters, veterans, scholarship opportunities – to name but a small few.
Certainly the legal profession has an obligation to work towards “equal justice for all.” Part of that is surely doing more to make the legal system fairer, to make justice in the judicial process less dependent on wealth, more user-friendly, more efficient, less procedurally burdensome, less an impediment to being getting on with one’s life.
So perhaps there should be two categories of pro bono contributions: one relating to the legal system, to the legal process (this one is the traditional definition of pro bono) and the other much broader – see above. Lawyers should continue to contribute to improving access to the law but other types of contributions should count and be honored in the assessment of a lawyer’s pro bono contributions.
This proposal would have to include a way to preserve a certain measure of privacy in the areas of charitable financial contributions.
The origin of this idea was a conversation with a lawyer at a large, well known Connecticut firm who contributes her time to assist grandparents who have been given custody of their grandchildren, who are raising their grandchildren. While that contribution does not improve access to the legal system, it may well make it less likely that the grandchildren will end up in the legal system. And, in any event, it is kind, decent and useful thing to do, something that makes life better for others. In my view, that kind of charitable contribution should (and in my view does) count towards fulfilling the lawyer’s pro bono obligation.