In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Check back each day between Oct. 22-26 for new posts, and visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn how you can get involved in events near you.
I focus my pro bono work at the Mecklenburg County SelfServe Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, counseling low-income clients who are representing themselves pro se in divorce and custody cases. My involvement at the SelfServe Center led me into representing pro bono clients in court, primarily in custody and support cases. These are low-income clients and in most of the cases I’ve tried there is a history of violence in the home. It may seem odd to say that I enjoy these cases, but I do. Human dynamics are fascinating and these cases challenge me, both personally and professionally. But it struck me years ago that there are definite patterns in these cases and with these clients. Though each is unique, their stories are ultimately the same. So I thought to myself, what if we could change the story before it is written? What if we could do something so that these people never become our clients?
The unfortunate reality made apparent early on in pro bono work is that there are too many clients in need of our services and not enough volunteer attorneys to meet the need. It reminds me of the well-known Jerry McGuire Mission Statement. Jerry said “It’s about fewer clients”. Of course those remarks got Jerry fired, so please know that I am not suggesting some radical change to the legal industry’s marketing methodology. Jerry McGuire’s goal was to focus more attention on a smaller pool of clients. What I am suggesting is that we should be on a mission to shrink the pool of clients itself. When we are talking about pro bono, shouldn’t fewer clients be the goal?
Of course our pro bono services must remain available to meet the needs that exist. But can we imagine re-energizing our public service efforts in such a way that someday our services are no longer needed?
Imagine if we could ensure fewer pro bono clients by providing every child with the necessities of life so that they can focus on their education rather than worrying about where their next meal will come from. Imagine if we could ensure fewer pro bono clients by educating young people about the court system so that in their futures each of them will find themselves on the right side of our system. What if we could ensure fewer clients by creating safe spaces for children who have experienced unimaginable trauma, where we can teach them how to break the cycle of violence so that someday they will be neither victim nor abuser? Each of us has been given the opportunity and the skills to serve and when we are all doing our part to stem the tide of poverty, abuse, neglect, and lack of education, I firmly believe the result will one day be fewer clients.
I believe that attorneys by nature are proactive people. We seek to structure and plan in such a way that the outcome becomes more predictable. If we can apply our same pro-active natures to our pro bono and public service work, we will have fewer clients. What more can each of us do to ensure that there will come a day when the need for our pro bono services is decreased because our compassion and commitment to education has changed the course? Through collective efforts and generosity, I believe we all can create a community of fewer clients.
Kimberly Easter Zirkle
Kimberly is an associate within the financial services team at Moore & Van Allen PLLC in Charlotte, NC. She is a long-time member of the MVA Public Service Committee and serves as the project leader for the Firm’s in-house pro bono efforts with the Mecklenburg County Pro Se Self-Serve Center. She was recently named the recipient of the 2013 Sally and Bill Van Allen Public Service Award for her commitment to service