Wisconsin Lawyer: President's Message: Pro Bono – A True Story, Conclusion:

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  • Wisconsin Lawyer

    President's Message: Pro Bono – A True Story, Conclusion

    Patrick J. Fiedler

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    Patrick Fiedler learned the real reward in providing pro bono legal assistance to someone who may be used to getting kicked around by society is knowing you gave the person something precious – dignity.

    In Part 1 of this story (September 2013), Betty got her divorce. I never heard any of the details. However, as a lawyer with some experience in family law, I can make a logical assumption as to the outcome. I’m sure that Betty was awarded primary placement of the children, Bob was ordered to pay child support (good luck enforcing that order!), and the almost nonexistent marital estate was divided 50-50. This meant that Betty kept her own personal property and Bob kept his. Since there was not an automobile to fight over, much less a home, this was probably one of the rare occasions when Bob did not start a fight with Betty over a disputed matter. Quite simply, there was nothing of value to dispute.

    I never saw Betty or her children again. My dad mentioned in passing that she had moved away from Mineral Point to another small town in the area where she had some family. I quickly forgot about Betty because I had no reason to think about her.

    Patrick J. Fiedlercom pfiedler axley Patrick J. Fiedler, Marquette 1980, is a litigator with Axley Brynelson LLP, in Madison.

    "Every lawyer likes to be paid for his professional services, and Betty satisfied her obligation in the only way that she could. Every year, she sent my dad a Christmas card."

    Later that year, Betty contacted my dad. She sent him a Christmas card. I asked my dad why she had done so. His response, “Oh, she needed a lawyer and I helped her out.” He did not have to tell me that he had done so for free. That was a given because I knew that Betty had no money. I examined the card and noted that it had cost 25¢. When I brought this up, my dad said that 25¢ was a lot of money to Betty.

    For several years, a Christmas card would arrive every December. Eventually, probably due to inflation, I noted that they now cost 35¢. Betty’s card was displayed with all the other cards we received. This continued into the 1970s, and I could tell that my dad was pleased that Betty remembered him. Every lawyer likes to be paid for his professional services, and Betty satisfied her obligation in the only way that she could. Every year, she sent my dad a Christmas card.

    Today, both Marquette University Law School and the University of Wisconsin Law School emphasize the importance of pro bono. Each school offers opportunities for students to deliver pro bono legal services to underrepresented community members. Students who complete a certain number of service hours are inducted into the Pro Bono Society as well as receiving other recognition.

    If your practice is not the type for which people show up at your office needing a lawyer but not having the ability to pay for one, fear not. The State Bar website has a number of suggestions, at www.wisbar.org/ProBono.

    From my dad I’ve learned the real reward in doing pro bono. Betty was poor and was used to getting kicked around by society. Because my dad took Betty on as his client, he made her an equal. He gave her something that she rarely experienced. He gave her dignity.