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This long-running column examines ethics in the paralegal profession. Do you have an ethical dilemma or question? E-mail us today.
Paralegals Give Back
Although not required, many still participate in pro bono.
By getting involved with pro bono, paralegals can apply their experiences and unique skills with the law to help individuals in society who can’t otherwise afford legal help. According to the latest My Opinion survey, despite the fact that paralegals don’t have an ethical requirement to become involved with pro bono, almost half of respondents volunteer their time.
When asked whether they have ever been involved with or currently are involved with a pro bono program, 41.8 percent of respondents said yes. Of those, 35.3 percent said they found their pro bono opportunities through their work, while another 28.3 percent found them through their paralegal association. Beyond the law firm and paralegal association environment, 14.3 percent of respondents found pro bono opportunities through their own research, and 11.4 percent found opportunities through their bar associations.
Although 58.2 percent of respondents
indicated no involvement with any type of pro bono program, 48 percent
of those said the reason was that they didn’t know where to look for a
pro bono program. “You have to go out and find something that makes you
feel good. Opportunities rarely come to you on their own,” said Chris
Webb, a mass tort litigation paralegal from
Another reason paralegals don’t participate in pro bono is lack of law firm support with only 36.5 percent of survey respondents saying their firms support a pro bono program. Another 31.7 percent were not sure whether their firm supports a program, and 31.7 percent of firms said with certainty that their firms don’t support one.
On the upside, 37.3 percent of local paralegal associations support a pro bono program while, according to respondents, only 9 percent of their local paralegal associations don’t. However, 53.7 percent of respondents could not say if their local paralegal association supported a pro bono program.
While supporting a pro bono program is
about reaching out to those less fortunate, it also can create meaning
in one’s life. “Participating in the Cincinnati Paralegal Association’s
Wills for Heroes program has been one of the most rewarding things I
have ever done professionally,” said Kirsten M. Max, RP, AACP, president
of the CPA. While 39.2 percent agreed with Max that they are involved in
pro bono because of the personal satisfaction, 35.3 percent said it was
their duty to give back to the community. “It’s an ethical and moral
imperative. Moreover, it’s simply the right thing to do,” said Allen
Mihecoby, manager, corporate secretary and compliance support in
When asked what programs survey respondents were involved with, 25 percent said Legal Aid Society, 13.9 percent said the Court Appointed Special Advocates program and 11.1 percent stated Wills for Heroes. The remaining 50 percent listed a variety of other pro bono opportunities.
When asked what types of pro bono opportunities survey respondents would like to see more of, 23.2 percent said they would like to see more pro bono programs for individuals with limited financial means, 25 percent said programs for neglected or abused children, 19.4 percent said programs for the elderly, 14.9 percent said programs for the welfare of animals and 14.3 percent said programs involving environmental awareness. “I personally would love to be involved in a program for the welfare of animals as that is something I am passionate about; however, I am not aware of a program in my area that would allow me to utilize my skills in a way that would help that cause,” said Heather Bernt, a paralegal from Lincoln, Neb.
Regardless of the type of pro bono work, our respondents agreed on one
thing: Getting involved is a great feeling. “How can [you] not feel good
when when you have helped those less fortunate?” said Gayle Panter, a
16-year paralegal from
Are you now or have you ever been involved with a pro bono program?
How did you find the pro bono opportunity?
My work: 35.3%
Paralegal Association: 28.3%
My Own Research: 14.3%
Bar Association: 11.4%
What types of pro bono programs would you like to see more of?
Abused/neglected children: 25%
Limited financial means: 23.2%
Welfare of animals: 14.9%
Environmental awareness: 14.3%
Total survey responses: 67
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