A Conversation: Pro Bono X2

Ah, WordPress. I prepared a nice opening drive for the White Caddy. The seats were full. Then, the page changes to something freaky and WordPress updated my 3000+ word post into a pristine, white canvas.

So, that will be delayed since I have real work to do. In the meantime, here’s something for you to discuss amongst yourselves.

Quick background: If a person is accused of a crime in the military, they are entitled to a defense lawyer from their service’s trial defense office. It is similar to a public defender in many ways, but there are two key differences.

1. Military members are assigned military counsel regardless of income. If the lowest private is accused of a crime, they receive a free military lawyer. If the highest general is accused of a crime, they, too, get a free military lawyer. No questions asked.

2. Suppose a person hires a private lawyer to present their defense. They do not lose military counsel. In this way, they get two for the price of one. The military counsel is required to remain on the case and act as co-counsel.

OK, now, here’s the situation, and it happens a lot.

First, a service member is accused of a crime. They receive assigned counsel for free. Assigned counsel will occasionally recommend a plea agreement. This is often sound advice.

Second, client hates the idea of pleading guilty. In turn, they decide to hate their assigned counsel.

Third, they begin calling civilian lawyers. Sticker shock inevitably ensues.

Then, they ask the question they learn through diligent searches of the Googles: “Do you know anyone who will take my case pro bono?”

My answer is truthful. “No, I don’t. The lawyers who I know that take cases for free (myself included) do not provide those services to individuals who already have one free lawyer.”

The conversation ends on this premise.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Lawyer or non-lawyer, I’m curious as to the opinions of the 5-10 readers I have out there.

Are we too hard-hearted? Is there no such thing as too much pro bono publico?

Or, do you subscribe to the philosophy of “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit?”

The floor is yours.


9 thoughts on “A Conversation: Pro Bono X2

  1. Even as a IP attorney, I ocassionally do pro bono work. Opportunities for it are rare, but they occur. Typically I do it for non-profit organizations or small town people who just need a little assistance with an IP task that they should reasonably be able to deal with on their own (in the future) if they just knew where to start. Not sure what my gauge is for deciding whether the help is pro bono or not, but a common trait is that the people/organizations didn’t engage with me thinking that they were getting the services for free — they just found out later.

    • I know it is different for your line of work. In my case, the potentials are vetted through other agencies. For instance, a friend of mine who works as a VA social worker informed me of a homeless vet who needed military records corrected in order to receive benefits. This social worker actually witnessed the vet living on the streets.

      Too often, I receive emails from individuals claiming poverty and homelessness, but the end of their email says “Sent from my iPad.” That’s why I need the independent source to verify that someone is truly in need.

      • As an old field artilleryman, I can assure you that there are many stars in alignment–but not those stars. One of the stars would have to be named “lyle is more skilled than the appointed attorney who will undoubtedly screw this up,” and the other would have to be named “this is the only way to prevent a grave injustice.” Or something like that, anyways.

  2. I have one pro bono client. It’s an organization that I love. I decided during law school that I would do transactional work for them for free if they would have me. I sought to do pro bono work for them, and they said they want to pay me in the future if they can.

    It would be a very hard sell for someone to come to me and ask me to work for them for free. I can understand someone asking for a payment plan or a reduced fee for bare-bones services; however, when they ask for me to work for free, I question whether they really value what I can do. There are a lot of ways to adjust one’s personal budget to pay for legal services.

    Like you, I’m skeptical when people claim they can’t afford certain services. Before law school I worked for a non-profit agency. Many of our clients lived on social security disability, but even then I had trouble feeling sympathetic when clients complained when we increased our prices if they had the latest cell phones in their pockets.

    • If I was one of those people to whom you allude, I’d respond angrily to your comment…….from an iPhone 4S or 3rd Generation iPad.

  3. I’m not military. I do pro bono civil work sometimes, as my office permits that. My clients are people I like, and wish to help, and whose cases really aren’t big enough to justify the expense of hiring an attorney.

    In the situation which you describe, where the appointed lawyer will be in the case no matter what the client wants (“The military counsel is required to remain on the case and act as co-counsel.”), I would have to be very good friends with appointed counsel and have an agreement with that counsel…and if counsel was a friend, counsel would be more than adequate to represent the client alone!

    No. I wouldn’t. If I was the appointed counsel, I’d be furious at someone meddling with my case…

  4. p.s. I thought about this last night, and when I started in Austin in criminal defense, we young attorneys were so anxious to try cases that my friends and I would hire each other as second chair if one had a good case. We’d split the fee 2/3 to first chair, 1/3 to second chair, and then we’d both work as hard as we could. So, if you just want to try cases, I’d attempt to work something out with appointed counsel.

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