Why Should Paralegals Commit to Pro Bono Service?

In the NFPA's Code, Pro bono services are defined as:
"Pro Bono Publico means providing or assisting to provide quality legal services in order to enhance access to justice for persons of limited means; charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the legal needs of persons with limited means; or individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights."
For decades, bar leaders, paralegal associations , ethical codes, and countless commissions and committees have proclaimed that legal professionals have obligations to assist individuals who cannot afford counsel. And for decades, the percentage of legal professionals who actually do so has remained very small. For example, the ABA reports that 79% of those in low income households do not obtain the services of a lawyer to handle their legal problems.
Further, pro bono service can not be used to obtain Cle Credit.
The failure of bars and paralegal associations to secure broader participation in pro bono work is all the more disappointing when measured against the extraordinary successes that such work has yielded, as many of the nation's landmark public-interest cases have grown out of lawyers' and paralegals' voluntary contributions.
How best to narrow the gap between professional ideals and professional practice?
The primary rationale for pro bono contributions rests on two premises: first, that access to legal services is a fundamental need, and second, that legal professionals have some responsibility to help make those services available.


The first claim is widely acknowledged. As the Supreme Court has recognized in other contexts, the right to sue and defend is the right that protects all other rights. Access to the justice system is particularly critical for the poor, who often depend on legal entitlements to meet basic needs such as food, housing, and medical care.
However, legal professionals, including paralegals,  are divided over whether lawyers and paralegals have some special responsibility to help provide that assistance, and if they have obligations to meet fundamental needs that other occupations do not share.
According to some, if equal justice under law is a societal value, society as a whole should bear its cost. The poor have fundamental needs for food and medical care, but we do not require grocers or physicians to donate their help in meeting those needs. So why should legal professionals' responsibilities be greater?
The benefits of pro bono work for paralegals
Several studies document benefits of pro bono work, for example, it has a positive impact on attitudes toward developing meaningful philosophy of life and promoting racial understanding.
Academically, pro bono service has a positive impact on degree aspirations, growth in cultural awareness, public speaking and interpersonal skills.
It is also a valuable professional experience work and offer good training opportunities. It can open paralegals' eyes to the substantive needs of poor people, to the bureaucracies with which they have to deal, and to the courts that hear these cases. It can also give a better understanding of the reach and limits of the law and the role paralegals play.

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