Pro Bono Week becomes Pro Bono Month in Alabama

The American Bar Association (ABA) recommends lawyers contribute at least 50 hours of pro bono service per year. To help achieve this goal, the ABA sponsors Pro Bono Week every October. In the last four years, nearly 70 percent of the events held were direct service clinics, volunteer training and recruitment events, or launches of new initiatives. The weeklong celebration is also an important vehicle for broadening and deepening services to Americans living on the social margins.

Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala. has turned this year’s Pro Bono Week of Oct. 20 to 26 into Pro Bono Month.

To kick off a month-long series of events, Cumberland has organized a lesson in empathy. On Friday, Oct. 4, dozens of lawyers, future lawyers and judges experienced first-hand for 15 minutes what it feels like to be poor. Calling it a “poverty simulation,” the exercise was designed to give law professionals a better understanding of the challenges people in poverty face in their daily lives.

Situations included the loss of a job, struggling to support a family on minimum wage, being evicted from their home, suffering from an untreatable disease, being forced to drop out of school and living in a high-crime neighborhood. Other challenges the participants faced were juggling work and school, dealing with transportation issues, getting children to daycare, standing in line at a social services office and getting a payday loan to keep up with overdue bills.

The goal for the 90 participants and 20 volunteers was to help lawyers who deal with low-income clients be more patient when their clients appear late for appointments or forget their paperwork. It’s not that their clients don’t care or aren’t invested in their own cases; often it’s that they’re faced with competing priorities.

Other programs and activities that Cumberland is organizing during Pro Bono Month include:

  • Free clinics for senior citizens to create wills
  • Kickoff of a municipal homeless court in Birmingham
  • Volunteer mediator training

What activities does your firm have planned to honor Pro Bono Week? Are you doing anything “above and beyond,” like Cumberland? We’d love to hear about it in our comments section.

If you’re stuck for ideas, visit Cumberland’s website, or find inspiration at the ABA’s Pro Bono site.