Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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The Pro Bono Case Next Door.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | March 7, 2011

No. 596

Corinne A. Tampas, the Philadelphia lawyer who calls herself “an Onshore Outsource Attorney”, tells the story in her blog about her attempt to volunteer to provide free legal services.  The most recent issue of the Attorney Disciplinary Board’s Newsletter focused on Chief Justice Castille’s call for Pennsylvania attorneys to volunteer free legal service to those who need counsel but cannot afford to pay the going rate.  Fired-up with enthusiasm, Corinne (who is a very experience lawyer) dropped in at the office of an organization providing assistance to indigent debtors (a tautology?) in bankruptcy cases. The doorman wouldn’t let her in, saying that she should leave a resume so that they could determine whether she was qualified.  Corinne, however, is nothing if not persistent. She managed to talk to the director of the organization on the phone while still standing at the door.  After she explained that she was an experienced lawyer who had volunteered before, the director told her to leave a resume with the doorman so that they could determine whether she was qualified.

Pro bono services by lawyers to poor clients are nothing new.  Every lawyer in private practice has encountered many potential clients who need a lawyer but can’t afford it and most of them have responded generously.  County Bar Associations have had programs in this area for many years.  I encountered an interesting one in Butler County recently.  When an indigent litigant needs a lawyer for a court date, the Bar Association appoints a volunteer to assist with that court appearance only.  In most small cases, that will be enough. The truth is, we all have seen pro-se litigants in court who are out of their depth, literally gumming up the process of an orderly trial.  Some are so hapless that they require constant prompting by the judge or arbitrators, just to get through it.

Organized efforts to provide lawyers for those who cannot afford it are essential. But we lawyers do not need to affiliate with such organizations to help. People who need lawyers they can’t afford are everywhere.  They can’t qualify for Neighborhood Legal Services or that organization is unable to provide a specific type of assistance due to budgetary limitations. In the real world, the available choices are rarely all or nothing. Many can afford to pay something and for them a modest flat fee could serve the purpose well.

Oh yes, one more thing.  As Corinne points out, pro bono work should not be a marketing strategy.  It should be a kindness given by one human being to another — quietly and confidentially.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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