Dear Florida Bar Members and Pro Bono advocates,
Pro bono service is part of the very DNA of our justice system, because accessing it shouldn’t have a price tag or be limited only to those who can afford it. Florida is one of the few states in the country that requires its attorneys to report how many hours of service and dollars they donate each year – because numbers count. Last year, Florida attorneys collectively donated more than $5.3 million in legal aid and more than 1.7 million hours of free legal service.
And while these figures are impressive, they are sadly still not enough to address the growing needs of citizens across the state. According to the World Justice Project, more than 80 percent of low-income litigants either go it alone or simply give up when faced with a legal challenge.
If Florida attorneys donated 1.7 million hours last year, imagine what could be accomplished if this number grew even more? That is why I am calling on all of us to do more, with a goal of reaching 2 million collective hours of pro bono service this year.
With this in mind, The Florida Bar has joined forces with The Florida Bar Foundation, voluntary bars and legal aid agencies across the state for Pro Bono Week, to recognize those who so freely give their time, while encouraging others to participate.
Let’s make our numbers count by using Pro Bono Week as an opportunity to celebrate, educate and advocate for pro bono involvement in our communities. We are using #FLProBonoCounts on the Bar’s social media channels to share stories of impact and bring attention to this critical element of being a lawyer. Share your stories using #FLProBonoCounts so that we can together raise our voices – and our hands – to help others.
Additionally, on January 19, 2017, in a ceremonial session of the Florida Supreme Court, the Court and The Florida Bar will host the annual Pro Bono Awards Ceremony to honor more than two dozen lawyers and judges for the free legal assistance they have provided. The Florida Bar and the Supreme Court invite nominations from legal aid groups, civic organizations, fellow lawyers and regular citizens who know of an attorney who has so freely given their time and expertise. Nomination forms can be found on the Bar’s website. The deadline to submit is November 9, 2016.
For the most part, pro bono work isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t make you famous and it certainly won’t make you rich. But it feels good. It is rewarding. And it matters.
William J. Schifino, Jr.