Participating in lawyer jokes has become a
gratuitous national pastime a pastime that suffers from a serious lack of knowledge
of the dedication that most attorneys have for their work. Thank goodness there are
writers such as Ray Orrock of the Hayward Daily Review who are not content to simply
repeat the well-worn and very often faulty perceptions that have been expressed about
Earlier this year, Orrock requested in his column good comments about
lawyers. I am executive director and general counsel for the Alameda County Bar
Association. Before that position, I practiced law for 18 years in real estate,
construction and insurance defense law. In response to Orrocks column, I made the
following observations about lawyers:
First, the legal profession is the only one with which I am familiar
where its members are strongly encouraged to give services, free of charge, to those below
the poverty level. The Alameda County Bar Association has a Volunteer Legal Services
Corporation which consists of panels of attorneys who give pro bono services to the
At its installation dinner of its president, Jonathon Wong, the ACBA
gave awards to attorneys who had given 50 or more hours. There were 24 of those attorneys.
In 1999, there were 578 panel members of VLSC who served 1,338 clients at an average
hourly rate of $150 per hour. These attorneys thus provided $748,650 worth of free
services to the community.
VLSC attorneys are responsible for helping people in the following ways:
drafting restraining orders for domestic violence victims; helping people file for
dissolution; obtaining guardianship over grandchildren on behalf of grandparents whose
children abuse drugs; counseling consumers with faulty products and services; protecting
the elderly from unwarranted foreclosures due to unscrupulous contractors and lenders and
helping clients with landlord-tenant problems.
Imagine any other professional knocking on the door of a
poverty-stricken individual in order to announce that he intends to perform free services.
Whats more, VLSC is only one of many legal service entities in Alameda County whose
attorneys offer free legal service to the indigent.
In addition to individual attorneys giving of their free time to help
the public, many law firms encourage their attorneys to do so. This encouragement takes
the form of allowing attorneys to fulfill the billable hour requirements through pro bono
services and even giving awards to their attorneys for services that they render.
Second, most lawyers have had many experiences in which the contract
for their services required a fee; but clients, due to inability or refusal, did not pay
for their services. Because attorneys are held at such high standard by the State Bar and
the courts, they are sometimes unable to withdraw from a case even when they face
protracted litigation. This is true even when the client has shown that he will not, or
can not, pay another cent.
Third, attorneys give a high level of service to their communities.
You will find them on boards of directors of, and giving services to, nonprofits, and as
members of school boards, city councils and other governmental entities.
Fourth, you always hear of the few very salient cases where lawyers
have been guilty of unscrupulous practices. For every one of those lawyers, there are
countless others whose ethics are above reproach and who care very deeply about the needs
and concerns of their clients.
Finally, it is observed that although you may hear negative comments
about lawyers in general, most individuals have positive things to say about their own
I would like to challenge the public to think of what I have said
before they sling such facile remarks at us. In the absence of the hard work and effort
that most attorneys spend on their cases, the legal system would come to a grinding halt.
Bari S. Robinson is
executive director and general counsel for the Alameda County Bar Association.