Pro Bono - A Practical Approach to an Ethical Obligation

On Friday I blogged about a few practical reasons for solo practitioners to provide a portion of their services pro bono. Notwithstanding the "return on investment," every lawyer in this state has an ethical obligation under the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) to provide legal service to those of modest means. New Jersey RPC 6.1 provides,

Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to render public interest legal service. A lawyer ‎may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to ‎persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in ‎activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession, and by financial support ‎for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

Accordingly, based on both RPC 6.1 and the reasons I reviewed yesterday, my business plan allots for public interest legal aid. Legal Services of New Jersey has opportunities to volunteer in various practice areas, including Immigration, Bankruptcy, and many others. I volunteered to assist in Immigration Law. To be candid, I am not an immigration lawyer, and I do not hold myself out to the public as one. I made this perfectly clear when I applied. Legal Services, nevertheless, was delighted and assigned a mentor to help me. In addition to the ethical obligation, I had additional reasons for choosing this category.

In my previous post I explained staying on top of legal developments is one reason to volunteer. In July 2009 the Supreme Court of New Jersey determined it is ineffective assistance of counsel under state law for a criminal defense lawyer to fail to advise a client of the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. State v. Jose Nunez-Valdez. Similarly, the Supreme Court of the United States determined more recently in Padilla v. Kentucky that this violates the right to effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. As I mentioned above, I had my own reasons for choosing to volunteer in the Immigration section. Based on these recent developments, I decided I needed to learn and gain experience with immigration law - not necessarily with a goal to practice but certainly in order to provide the representation the law now requires.