Local Lawyers Work ‘Pro Bono,’ Provide Priceless Patronage
A lawyer dies and goes to Heaven.
At the Pearly Gates the lawyer argues, “There must be some mistake. I’m too young to die. I’m only 55.”
“You’re only 55?” queries Saint Peter looking down at his ledger. “According to our calculations, you’re 82.”
“82? Why do you think I’m 82??” the lawyer probes.
Saint Peter says, “Easy, we added up your time sheets.”
It’s an old joke, but that same lawyer probably could have rendered a more favorable verdict by clocking in that extra time working pro bono…
Founded in 1986, The Pro Bono Project helps low-income families, individuals and the elderly, in six local Louisiana parishes, gain access to lawyers who can help them resolve civil legal issues for free. It’s a collaborative effort between the organization’s staff and hundreds of local volunteer attorneys, paralegals, law students and private citizens.
No matter the issue – adoption, bankruptcy, child support, consumer complaints, contractor litigation, custody agreements, debt, divorce, estate planning, immigration, interdiction, name changes, paternity and visitation, power of attorney, proof of title, property, failure to return security deposits, social security appeals, successions, tax, tort, wage claims and wills – The Pro Bono Project can help.
Last year, The Pro Bono Project represented more than 2,000 families and individuals by taking on more than 1,000 cases and winning 401. The organization has an active panel of 417 volunteers whose work provided an economic value of nearly $1.9 million in Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
Governor John Bel Edwards recently proclaimed Monday, October 22, through Saturday, October 27, Pro Bono Week in Louisiana, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a Certificate of Recognition for the group’s volunteer efforts in the community and Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni delivered a Pro Bono Week Proclamation.
Last month, the Project hosted multiple events to bring awareness to the services the organization provides and celebrated its 30th annual Justice For All Ball on Friday, October 5, at the Audubon Tea Room.
Through the Project, volunteer lawyers are assigned cases and provide direct representation to clients. They can also provide assistance to and mentor local and out-of-state attorneys working on Pro Bono Project cases, conduct legal and factual research, draft and file pleadings, interview clients and gather facts, refer clients to appropriate agencies or other legal service providers and staff Pro Bono Project clinics throughout the metro area.
More than 40 law firms in the New Orleans area represent pro bono clients through The Pro Bono Project including Lugenbuhl, Wheaton, Peck, Rankin & Hubbard where longstanding volunteer attorney Meredith Grabill focuses on bankruptcy, restructuring and creditors’ rights, commercial finance, gas and oil coverage and general liability coverage. She has received the Project’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her work in family law and community assistance and the Pro Bono Publico, Pro Bono Century and Citizen Lawyer Awards from the Louisiana State Bar Association.
“I dedicate my time doing pro bono work to support parents and grandparents in bringing stability to their children’s lives,” Grabill said. “The small part that I play can really make a lasting, positive impact on families, and I feel that it’s my responsibility as an attorney to contribute to my community in this way. As a federal judge who I consider to be a role model has said, ‘Pro bono work is the rent we attorneys pay for the space we occupy in the community.’”
Grabill has represented pro bono clients in adoption, custody, interdiction and succession matters. She worked with the mother of a 19-year-old son with severe developmental disabilities to obtain the legal authority to continue providing care for her son and making his future care decisions, and she took on a case in which she helped a couple gain legal custody of a 14-year-old boy whose mother died shortly after his birth. In the process, Grabill became the first volunteer attorney working with The Pro Bono Project to represent an orphaned child in an ex parte custody proceeding in Louisiana.
Last year, these locals were recognized for providing more than 100 hours of Pro Bono Project service: Madeline Aruffo, Ingrid Autin, Joanna Broussard, Kyle Brennan, J.D., Mariana Deluera Canchola, Mary Carol Chenet, Janice Dore, Callan Johns, Candice Johnson, Elizabeth Williams and Gary Zwain, J.D.
The Pro Bono Project is where many college undergraduate and law students first learn about the justice system and get the opportunity to perform required hours of community service.
Project intern, and Loyola University New Orleans senior, Tarrion J. Parish said, “Volunteering is very important to me. I believe in helping others who can’t help themselves, the betterment of communities, sustaining and keeping New Orleans and Louisiana healthy. Working in civil legal aid is amazing. I could literally spend all of my day helping self-represented litigants with their civil issues without any breaks.”
If you’re not a lawyer or a student but still want to volunteer for The Pro Bono Project, the group welcomes accountants who assist with calculations, communicators to help promote the Project through various media outlets, court reporters who provide depositions pro bono, interpreters, private investigators who help clients locate adverse parties, social workers and those who want to volunteer for non-legal activities including database management, event support, fundraising and office filing.
The Pro Bono Project also hosts free, community legal clinics that enable volunteer lawyers to help area residents who meet The Pro Bono Project’s criteria with issues that may not necessarily require a legal remedy including problems with consumer debt, elder issues, employment and wage claims, homelessness and successions.
Project reps say they partner with other community organizations in order to expand its outreach and is always looking for volunteers to work with staff to host its clinics.
The Project is funded with assistance from filing fees from the judicial districts it serves, HUD, Louisiana Bar Foundation IOLTA grants, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Title III funds and corporate, foundation and individual donations.