As president of the State Bar of Wisconsin, I have logged a lot of volunteer hours over the past year. But as many of you know, I didn’t really start volunteering with the State Bar until I changed careers from corporate to private practice in 2004. I also didn’t start providing free legal advice until I went into to private practice. Frankly, as in-house attorney, we didn’t have errors and omission insurance to cover volunteer legal work, and there simply weren’t that many opportunities – that I was aware of – to provide the type of advice that I felt comfortable giving. As a corporate attorney, I was unfamiliar with the most common types of free legal advice given at the local free legal assistance clinics.
I’m very excited that corporate and business lawyers now have a vehicle to deliver pro bono legal assistance! The State Bar’s Business Law Section has teamed up with the Marquette University Law School to provide legal advice to Wisconsin small businesses through the new Small Business Assistance program. Every Friday morning, volunteer attorneys will meet via Zoom or by phone with small-business clients for hour-long sessions.
Offered through the Marquette University Law School Volunteer Legal Clinics, the program helps a wide variety of small businesses, from restaurants and retail stores to specialty shops and gas stations with non-litigation services they could not otherwise afford. Many small businesses have been severely affected by the pandemic. This program is a way that corporate and business law attorneys can help these small businesses and the communities in which they operate survive well beyond the pandemic.
I encourage business attorneys to volunteer with the Small Business Assistance program. Volunteer shifts are presently available on Friday mornings, but the program may be expanded to meet demand. The good news is that all members who volunteer are automatically covered by professional liability insurance provided via the State Bar’s pro bono program (or are covered by Marquette’s insurance for the Friday clinic volunteers). Your pro bono time also can qualify for CLE credit (five hours of pro bono service per CLE credit with a qualifying pro bono program up to six hours in a reporting period).
The State Bar’s new Pro Bono Portal makes it easier for all attorneys to connect with this and other pro bono opportunities. Learn more and access the Pro Bono Portal at wisbar.org/probono.
In 2019 alone, more than 340 of you joined the Pro Bono Honor Society by certifying that you volunteered 50 hours or more to provide legal assistance to low-income individuals and organizations – that equates to 17,000-plus volunteer hours! And that does not include the hundreds of attorneys who volunteer each year with the State Bar to make the legal profession better for all attorneys, through mentoring, by serving on committees, sections, and divisions, by providing CLE programming, and more. And, hundreds of attorneys serve the public each year by volunteering for the High School Mock Trial program, educating high school students about the profession and our justice system.
I sincerely hope that with the new Pro Bono Portal, and the growing opportunities listed in it, that you will continue to volunteer your time, talent, and knowledge to make your communities and the legal profession better. Find out more about the Small Business Assistance program at wisbar.org/smallbusiness.
If you have questions or have a pro bono program to include in the portal, contact Jeff Brown, the State Bar pro bono manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We don’t say it often enough, but thank you to all of you who volunteer!
Looking for Pro Bono Opportunities? The State Bar’s Pro Bono Portal connects you to legal service organizations throughout Wisconsin that need your help. Easily identify the opportunities that fit your interests and experience.
Pro Bono Portal: wisbar.org/ProBono
Small Business Assistance program: wisbar.org/smallbusiness
» Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 4 (March 2021).