The Atlanta Lawyer — October 2011
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President's Message
Rita A. Sheffey

The Atlanta Bar Association has a long, rich history of commitment to service. We are “Lawyers Who Serve.” One year ago, in this issue, we highlighted some of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Continued Commitment to Pro Bono (see October 2010, pages 6-7), including devoting one of the bar-wide luncheons each year to pro bono and community service. You will find an update on our pro bono activities on page 6.

On Friday, October 21, 2011, we will hold our fourth annual Celebrating Service Luncheon and Pro Bono Fair. We are delighted that 11 Alive Evening News Anchor Brenda Wood will be our guest speaker. Just look at how her television station has re-focused itself on serving the community, featuring “News That Helps You.” They get it. The news is not only the “breaking” news that we expect (and need), but it also includes many positive things people do in our community. I believe that sharing those stories has a beneficial impact on how we view our daily lives. Maybe it helps lift our spirits and give us reason to be optimistic. And we learn about our neighbors and ourselves in the process. We look forward to her insights on the importance of doing good things and highlighting those who do.

Our media sponsor again this year, the Daily Report, also gets it. Their support of and participation in Celebrating Service as well as other events in which local lawyers are involved demonstrates the Daily Report’s commitment to being a good community partner.

As we get ready for our fourth Celebrating Service, some of you may wonder how and why we selected the name for this event. As we planned the inaugural event, I was a bit skeptical about how many of our members would attend a “Pro Bono” luncheon. I knew there were many lawyers who, like me, are actively engaged in pro bono legal services and I was confident they would attend. However, I also knew other lawyers who were not involved in pro bono and I thought might not be interested in the focus. In addition to pro bono, however, we also wanted to recognize colleagues engaged actively in community service and public service. Thus, we settled on the name “Celebrating Service.” The name is positive, inclusive, and uplifting. Too often, good intentions can be interpreted as preaching or dictating what one should do with his or her relatively little precious free time. We felt a celebration set just the right tone. Celebrate and acknowledge the many great things lawyers are doing and lead by example. We have been thrilled with the response. Clearly, there is interest and a need to gather lawyers and judges to focus on service and specifically pro bono. I am so proud to be part of an association that is demonstrating such leadership in this area.

There may still be some among us who say “Why pro bono?” I wish we didn’t have to continue making this case, but until more of us get engaged and we move closer to helping the pro bono and public interest organizations meet all of the legal needs of the disadvantaged, we must keep reminding ourselves why we must get involved. It is our professional responsibility. Lawyers are uniquely qualified to provide legal services and there are so many people who otherwise could not afford such services, effectively barring them from access to justice. But it is more than that. Doing pro bono work makes you feel good inside and reminds many of us why we went to law school in the first place. Knowing that you helped someone stabilize their family circumstances, whether by obtaining child support or helping a domestic violence victim become a survivor, settling a dispute with a landlord, helping a non-profit ensure they have their legal documents in order, or one of many other legal matters volunteer lawyers engage in, really does give you a warm feeling of personal satisfaction. If you have not experienced this, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. It also can raise your profile in the community and with potential clients.

And there really is a business case for pro bono. It is great for training young lawyers and for helping anyone learn new skills. Many of our clients expect it. You need not look far to see our clients and others engaging in various forms of service, whether through pro bono, community service or other avenues. In this issue, for example, the Atlanta Bar Association’s long-time Platinum sponsor SunTrust summarizes some of the many community efforts in which their employees are engaged. More and more, corporate clients are asking their firms to tell them how the firms give to others. Increasingly, private law firms and corporate legal departments are partnering on pro bono projects as well.

I am fortunate to work for a law firm whose core values include service to our communities. For two years (three in Atlanta), every full-time U.S. lawyer at Hunton & Williams has done some pro bono legal work. That translates into thousands of individuals and non-profit organizations having their legal needs met by volunteer lawyers each year. And it is one reason why I am using this bully pulpit to encourage more of my colleagues to get engaged. The Atlanta Bar Association seeks to be the conduit for many of our members to serve others. Wherever you practice or whatever your practice area, we can help connect you with a pro bono or public interest organization. There are volunteer opportunities for everyone. And judges can participate, too.
Judge Edlein handled pro bono cases when she was in private practice. She now supports pro bono by co-chairing the Atlanta Bar Association Pro Bono and Community Service Committee and helping thank the many lawyers for their time and dedication.

It is far from a secret that a very important part of my legal career has been pro bono legal services, both providing them directly and actively encouraging and supporting others to do the same. I am proud of the many things I have done in my 24 years as a lawyer, but none more so than being engaged in and supporting pro bono legal services. It is never too early or too late to get involved. If you don’t know how, reach out and ask. It will enrich your life.