California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 2001
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - November 2001
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News / News Briefs
Applicants sought to oversee bar's diversion program
Let's have another cup of - legal advice
Foundation leads students to capital
Six honored for professional service
Warwick, six others named to California Judicial Council
Several thousand lawyers suspended for failing to pay dues, certify MCLE
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Trials Digest
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Opinion
From the President - Remembering the fallen
The rule of law is our strongest weapon
Pro bono work is lawyers' duty
Letters to the Editor
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Law Practice - Success: The top eight requirements
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You Need to Know
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MCLE Self-Study
Planning for education expenses
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - Lawyers move on in usual way despite disaster
Former city councilman spent his son's settlement
Attorney Discipline
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Public Comment

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Pro bono work is lawyers' duty
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By RONALD M. GEORGE
Chief Justice, California Supreme Court
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Ronald M. GeorgeProviding pro bono service is an important responsibility and obligation that attaches to the privilege of being an attorney. This expectation of service and public-spirited action is not limited to a particular kind of attorney engaged in a specific type of practice, but instead to all attorneys. Whether a litigator, a corporate lawyer, a specialist in administrative hearings, a noted transactional guru, a master at mediation or a leader in IPOs, every attorney has skills that can be used to assist individuals in the community to vindicate rights and realize benefits that otherwise might elude them.

Giving back to the community and improving the administration of justice through pro bono contributions is at the heart of styling oneself a professional. Thus, the practice of the profession of law encompasses far more than the business of running a law firm. It demands more than that a lawyer competently represent clients, draw up necessary papers or negotiate a favorable outcome.

The title of professional requires that in daily practice, an attorney strive to transcend the demands of the moment to consider the greater good. Lawyers are not simply representatives or employees of their clients - they are officers of the court. That denomination reminds us that a lawyer's obligations flow not only to the client but to the courts and to the system of justice of which they are an integral part.

Too often, we see lawyers portrayed as focused solely on the bottom line, instead of on improving the society in which they function. Fortunately, the rumors of the death of professionalism are extremely premature. Law can be an excellent way to earn a living. But making a profit is not inconsistent with making a difference that cannot be measured by money alone.               

The plight of litigants without lawyers in our courts is not a new one, but it has intensified. In some areas of the law, particularly family law, the vast majority of cases have no lawyer involvement at all. For many other individuals, the cost of a lawyer puts the help they need beyond reach - even though that may mean foregoing benefits to which these individuals are entitled - and that can make the difference between barely surviving, if at all, and doing all right.

One major step the Judicial Council has taken is the creation of a self-help website to provide information about the court system, and basic forms and procedural information that can assist the layperson in navigating some of the difficult legal landscape. This website - www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp - provides information on legal services providers and on where to turn for legal assistance, as well as information for the individual who intends to proceed without counsel. It also helps those with counsel better understand the process and what lies ahead in a particular matter so that these persons may work in closer coordination with the lawyer they have.

Started in late July, the website has had well over a million hits already. The response from laypersons, lawyers and service providers alike has been extremely positive. This site is further proof, if further proof were needed, of the unmet legal needs of too many members of the public.

We in the court system are working to provide tools to assist individuals in vindicating their rights under our legal system - and a task force on self-represented litigants that I appointed is just getting underway in its efforts to seek other means of making a difference for those who cannot afford legal representation but have a problem that requires the assistance of the courts.

The hard work of individual attorneys up and down the state is an essential component without which we cannot succeed in making progress in improving access to our courts. No further studies are needed to confirm the importance of the pro bono contributions made every day by lawyers to individuals who lives are changes by the assistance they receive.

This column is excerpted from remarks the chief justice made at the President's Pro Bono Awards reception at the State Bar's annual meeting last month.