United States: Developing Advocacy Skills Through Pro Bono Work

Last Updated: April 9 2012
Article by Katrin C. Rowan

Previously published in The Legal Intelligencer

As its Latin translation suggests, pro bono publico work is for the public good and can provide immensely rewarding professional experiences for attorneys. The benefits of pro bono work are many, including, perhaps most significantly, the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in a client's life and positively influence the legal system. Indeed, Rule 6.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct calls for every lawyer to "render public interest legal service," including by "providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means."

An additional benefit of pro bono work is the opportunity for lawyers, especially less-experienced lawyers, to develop their advocacy skills. This is particularly true with respect to appellate matters. Over the years, appellate advocacy has emerged as a distinctive practice area, focused not on a particular substantive area of the law but instead on the special skill sets needed when advocating in an appellate tribunal. Appellate work demands specialized abilities, including cogent brief writing, sophisticated legal reasoning and outstanding oral advocacy, that less-experienced lawyers may still be in the process of developing.

Pro bono matters present a valuable opportunity to develop these skills. In some situations, a newer lawyer may be able to take the lead on a pro bono matter, drafting the briefs and arguing the case before an appellate court. This is precisely how many seasoned lawyers, including those at my firm, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, got their start in the appellate courts and began developing this expertise. In fact, one of our attorneys even had the opportunity to argue a pro bono case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, Schnader's rich tradition of pro bono representation often intersects with its dedication to the craft of appellate advocacy.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for lawyers to become involved in pro bono cases on appeal. Interested attorneys can accept referrals from public interest organizations and bar associations, or take advantage of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' longstanding pro bono appointment system to represent a pro se party on appeal on a pro bono basis.

The 3rd Circuit maintains a list of attorneys and law firms that have volunteered to take pro bono assignments from the court. Attorneys can elect to join the list when they are admitted to practice in the 3rd Circuit, or can later contact the court and inform it that they would like to be considered for a pro bono appointment. Counsel can highlight special experience or interest in a particular type of case when joining the list of volunteer attorneys. The court also has relationships with several clinical programs at area law schools that receive appointments in pro bono cases.

Before appointing counsel, the court first screens pro se parties for financial eligibility, as an individual must be in forma pauperis (unable to afford to retain his or her own counsel) to be appointed counsel. In deciding whether to appoint counsel in a given case, the court applies the factors identified in the 3rd Circuit's 1993 ruling in Tabron v. Grace , which includes consideration of the merits of the claim, the party's ability to present his or her case and the difficulty of the legal issues involved.

The cases in which the 3rd Circuit appoints counsel span a wide range, although the majority are prisoner civil rights suits and immigration appeals. These cases often present interesting and complicated questions of federal statutory and constitutional law. The court may also appoint counsel to serve as amicus curiae to address a particular issue in a case. The court provides appointed counsel with ample time to review the record before establishing a briefing schedule, and, even though the 3rd Circuit hears oral argument in only approximately 14 percent of its cases, it traditionally has encouraged pro bono representation by holding oral argument in most cases in which counsel has been appointed.

Currently, there is no similar pro bono appointment system in the Pennsylvania state appellate courts, but efforts are underway to establish a pilot program in the family division of the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court for cases that are headed for appeal. Spearheaded by Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Mary Jane Bowes and Allegheny County Family Court Judge Kim Eaton and Administrative Judge Kathryn Hens-Greco, the program would be housed in the family court's pro se motions office and provide critical assistance to pro se parties from the very beginning of an appeal.

Pittsburgh law firm Metz Lewis Brodman Must & O'Keefe has agreed to coordinate the program and screen cases to determine whether counsel should be appointed. Among the factors that would be considered are a party's financial eligibility, the case's merit, the likelihood that the case could establish valuable precedent and the availability of volunteer lawyers. The coordinating firm would match appropriate cases with attorneys who have volunteered to be a part of the program. These pro bono attorneys would file the notice of appeal and Appellate Rule 1925(b) statement of matters complained of on appeal, which, in a children's fast-track appeal, must be filed simultaneously with the notice of appeal under the appellate rules. Because of the tight filing deadlines, it is especially important in Pennsylvania state courts that pro se parties obtain legal assistance from the beginning stages of an appeal to avoid waiver of any issues.

Pro bono counsel, possibly with the assistance of law students, would then brief and argue the case before the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Bar Admission Rules presently permit law students to participate in the drafting of the brief, but not to present oral argument in the case, although proposals have been made to change this rule in order to allow law students to argue cases before the state appellate courts in appropriate situations.

The Allegheny County program would be housed in the family court rather than the Superior Court, given the need for early appellate representation and the absence of appropriate infrastructure in the Superior Court (including staffing and funding for such a program), as well as a desire to keep separate the screening and judicial review phases of the case. While there are presently no plans to extend a pro bono appointment system to other types of cases on appeal or create a system similar to the 3rd Circuit's, this program could be the beginning of a statewide initiative to provide invaluable legal assistance in family law matters where pro se parties are especially in need of counsel on appeal. The Pennsylvania courts will need the assistance of the bar — including volunteer attorneys and firms to coordinate the program and take on cases — to ensure the success of this program.

Pro bono representation, especially at the appellate level, is a true win-win arrangement for all involved. The formerly pro se party benefits from the skill and experience of counsel. The pro bono attorney benefits from the opportunity to further develop his or her skills and gain meaningful, valuable experience. The law firm employing the attorney benefits from the advancement of the attorney's professional development, at little or no cost to the firm. And the appellate courts benefit from reviewing cases briefed and argued by counsel rather than pro se litigants.

Attorneys seeking to develop their appellate advocacy skills and fulfill their professional obligation of pro bono representation should consider this rewarding opportunity.

www.schnader.com

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Katrin C. Rowan
 
In association with
Related Video
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
Accounting and Audit
Anti-trust/Competition Law
Consumer Protection
Corporate/Commercial Law
Criminal Law
Employment and HR
Energy and Natural Resources
Environment
Family and Matrimonial
Finance and Banking
Food, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences
Government, Public Sector
Immigration
Insolvency/Bankruptcy, Re-structuring
Insurance
Intellectual Property
International Law
Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment
Privacy
Real Estate and Construction
Strategy
Tax
Transport
Wealth Management
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.