Sotomayor Pushed Mandatory Pro Bono. What Do You Think?

, The National Law Journal


Justice Sonia Sotomayor this week said she's in favor of "forced labor"—mandatory pro bono. Not a new concept, sure, but the justice's remarks generated considerable buzz. Tell us what you think. Good idea, or bad? How would it work? Join the conversation.

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What's being said

  • Patricia R. Hersom

    When I was admitted in 1962 in California judges seemed to appoint me a lot to pro bono work. In those days most lawyers were general practitioner and so we pretty much were equally incompetent to do many things. Now the a lawyer is in deep water if they do not practice in a particular area and try to represent clients in it. Is a little knowledge good enough. No way. The whole idea was part of the early New York bar requirements and was a failure. Perhaps the justice should stick with trying to get respect back for SCOTUS and stop trying to run the world.


    If those large firm," white shoe" lawyers have a guilty conscience that they are making too much money and would like to give a little back to society, by all means let them do so. But do not add an additional burden to the sole practitioners and small firm attorneys who are struggling to keep afloat and provide for their families by mandating bro-bono work . Many of us have practice corporate and commercial law or other fields that are simply not areas of practice that generally relate to legal issues confronting the poor and we would be doing them a dis-service by attempting to provide legal guidance in an area we are ill equipped to offer legal advice.Bottom line, forced labor is abhorrent to any professional pursuit, including law, and should be opposed by all who value free enterprise and freedom of choice.

  • Starla Kreie-Perciado

    Pro-Bono mandatory? If that ever were passed, it would be a blessing for all of us "poor people." Here is the one thing that I don‘t understand; court-appointed lawyers. They are already getting paid; correct? Why don‘t they do their jobs to the fullest? If that were made mandatory, there wouldn‘t be such a need for pro-bono attorneys. Instead, we have court appointed attorney‘s teaming up with the prosecuting attorney‘s to pick and choose who gets a fair day in court. It‘s absurd the way the court system is, and it utterly disgusts me how they play with people‘s lives for whatever floats their boats! I have been looking for an attorney that would take a case pro-bono because of the lack of adequate representation that was given to my husband and haven‘t been able to find one to make his defense. He is doing a three-year prison sentence for something that should of not ever occurred. So to all the attorney‘s out there that do take pro-bono cases out of the goodness of your hearts, my hat is off to you!

  • Battered and Bruised

    No one should confuse access to a lawyer with access to justice. The rights of the poor and vulnerable are routinely ignored and disrespected by courts (i.e. judges), even when an individual is represented. One need look no further than the data on how civil rights plaintiffs fare in the federal courts. Their claims virtually never get to a jury because federal judges are regularly and openly abusing their authority under Rule 56. It‘s gotten to a point where it‘s hard to find an attorney to take these cases even for a fee. I would suggest the Justice turn her attention to addressing the systematic abuse of summary judgment by her colleagues on the bench before advocating that attorneys (like me) be forced to spend time and energy tilting at windmills.

  • Truth to Power

    Frequently the calls for mandatory pro bono come from judges who have never themselves actually represented a poor person in a contested legal matter for free. A few judges will tout their pro bono service performed while they worked at a large firms for a hefty salary that was not impacted by their "pro bono" work. Any judge who suggests mandatory pro bono should themselves take on a case for a poor person outside their jurisdiction. The requirement is as off the mark as making charitable contributions mandatory or requiring everyone to give blood.Should people give of their time? Of course. All people should and the secret to a happy life is to give more than receive. It is vital that the legal leaders emphasize the importance of giving back. If pro bono is made mandatory I will be representing a lot of struggling lawyers pro bono to bring a constitutional challenge to forced labor. You cannot legislate good behavior - you can model it by doing it.

  • Realist

    This idea is always floated, and it made more sense 30 years ago when a law license was a guarantee of a great upper middle class income. But nowadays, many young attorneys are struggling to pay rent. Attorneys like her are often in their ivory towers, pontificating on how we rich lawyers should give back, assuming the entire time that we are all raking in the dough from rich clients who desperately need our services. That is just not the case anymore. I didn‘t even break even last year, and she wants me to work for free. What a fantasticly myopic idea.

  • Leressa Crockett

    I believe the poor and underserved deserve legal assistance. I do not believe it should be provided through forced labor. Legal assistance for the poor, elderly, children and other vulnerable populations, should be provided, but not through a system of forced labor. Lawyers assisting the poor and vulnerable deserve to be paid, just like lawyers who represent our Governor, and other government officials.

  • Rita A. Sheffey

    I strongly believe that part of a lawyer‘s professional responsibility is to provide pro bono legal services. However, because lawyers‘ practices vary so widely and the underserved have widely disparate needs and live sometimes in distant places, pro bono necessarily will and should take many forms. There also are times during one‘s career that pro bono is more feasible than others. Economic circumstances often dictate putting certain parts of one‘s professional life on hold for a time, and that is fine. We cannot expect perfect balance all the time. Similarly, lawyers have varying capacity to donate dollars to support legal services. I do not support making pro bono mandatory, but it is an essential part of being a professional. That said, Justice Sotomayor makes some good and thoughtful points and I would love to host her for a discussion on this topic. As with other issues facing our profession, we should be open to innovation and creative thinking to solve access to justice.

  • Darryl Cohen

    Wrong on many levels.

  • Bills Bills Bills

    What do I think? I think people who think that it should be a requirement that anyone work for free are divorced from the realities of everyday life and the practice of law for solos, small firms, young lawyers with strangling debt, etc. That doesn‘t mean that pro bono is not something laudable that we all *should* do.

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