For the past six years, the Connecticut Bar Association's Young Lawyers Section has hosted a pro bono fair to recruit new volunteer lawyers to help out the various legal aid groups across the state.
Often times the event is held during the fall in conjunction with National Pro Bono Week. Last year, the event attendance tripled from the year previous with roughly 150 lawyers there.
Not wanting to stand pat, the group has lofty goals for the coming year. At their pro bono fair earlier this month, the Young Lawyers Section unveiled plans to get members of the bar statewide to pledge a total of $1 million worth of pro bono hours.
"What we wanted to do this year was try to find a way to not just promote pro bono work but drive to get work done and accomplished for these agencies," said Jonathan Shapiro, the current president of the CBA's Young Lawyers Section.
Though Shapiro spoke of the idea in terms of "we," the idea largely came from him. He tossed the idea around with a couple other active members to come up with realistic ways to increase accountability for pro bono work.
"It's easy to sign up with an organization and say put me on your volunteer list," said Shapiro. "What happens? The pro bono agencies will call with a matter and maybe the attorney is available and maybe not. I've certainly fallen victim to it in the past. Your work and life gets in front of you and you feel you're too busy to do the work.
"So we thought why not have people pledge hours so we know when people are doing the hours," continued Shapiro. "That was really the genesis of it."
The actual pro bono hours that the group hopes bar members of all ages and firm sizes will pledge to do will be done between March and May, a three-month period.
"We wanted time to recruit people to sign the pledge and promote the initiative," said Shapiro. "We'll have trainings where there's [legal aid] clinics and give everyone time to plan for it. If you know the call's coming, I think you can plan for it."
Shapiro said when you break down the $1 million goal; it's not at all an unrealistic figure. Specifically, he said an hourly attorney's fee of $250 multiplied by 4,000 hours of pro bono work would equal $1 million. Further he said the CBA has roughly 8,000 to 9,000 members. So he said if 8,000 people did a half-hour of pro bono work during that three month span, they'd reach the $1 million goal.