Last week was the ABA Pro Bono Week; a week-long event where pro bono is encouraged and celebrated. Now, it goes without saying that I am a little bit of a pro bono junkie. But why am I a pro bono junkie? When asked why I provide pro bono legal services, my answer is not exactly nuanced – pro bono makes me feel good about what I do as a business law lawyer. This is basically a “because I said so” answer. It works for me.
But if I think about songs that come to mind when I reflect on why I do pro bono, my canned answer above starts to take on a much more nuanced flavor.
· One song that immediately stands out for me is Aretha Franklin’s Respect. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, and I told people I wanted to be a lawyer, without hesitation, those people would either launch into lawyer jokes, tell me there were too many lawyers in the world or self-importantly mis-quote Shakespeare. Doing pro bono makes my choice to be a lawyer a valid, community-serving choice. As I said, free association of songs often allows us to reconsider why we make the choices we make. Basically, pro bono allows me to demand RESPECT!
· As I try to take the edge off my first song choice, Bill Wither’s Lean on Me and Dione Warwick’s That’s What Friends are For come to mind. But these songs continue the theme of bolstering my decision to do pro bono as a choice to feel good about myself. I vividly recall my college psychology/sociology/philosophy classes where my professors would proclaim there is no such thing as altruism. Everything we do as a human being is self-motivated. Is the motivation bad it the end result is good?
So after contemplating songs reflective of my motivation, Shakespeare, and the social sciences, is there really one right answer as to why a lawyer does pro bono? I think the answer is still a personal one, “Because . . ."
But this whole discussion then leads to two more questions: Why does the legal profession require/strongly encourage its licensed participants to provide pro bono legal services? And why do some lawyers decide not do pro bono?
Your thoughts are appreciated on my questions or my reasons.