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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Work for Free or Else

    There has been a debate going on in Mississippi about a proposed rule that would require every attorney to perform pro bono ("for good"/free) work. There has been an additional proposal in some quarters that would allow attorneys to "buy out" of the pro bono requirement for $500.00.
     It is a noble concept that every lawyer--every person for that matter--should do good works for those who cannot afford their services. Forced altruism is a miserable and untenable concept, however. Many lawyers already do such work and feel they are contributing to the public good. Lawyers should also have the option of not doing such work. Even to lawyers with liberal leanings, like me, the idea of mandatory pro bono smacks of extreme government overreaching. The idea also has a slight flavor of narcissism: we lawyers and the services we provide are so essential that no citizen, regardless of their ability to pay, should be denied them. Legal services certainly are important, sometimes critically so, but no justification exists for forced pro bono. The law already requires that indigent criminal defendants be provided with counsel at little or no cost. This requirement stems from the 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright.

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