News From the President
Joanne M. Murray, Esq.
Antheil Maslow & MacMinn, LLP
Dear BCBA Members:
It should come as no surprise to the reader that the legal profession suffers from a serious public image problem. Lawyer jokes abound, and I dare you to Google “quotations about lawyers” and find more than a handful of inspirational, positive quotes among the panoply of disparaging statements. A 2014 Gallup poll ranks the legal system below all but the media and Congress as institutions in which they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll ranks us at the bottom of institutions which respondents say contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being. As lawyers and public servants, we know this negative treatment is undeserved.
There are likely many reasons for this poor public image. The results of a 2001 American Bar Association survey are telling. Respondents to that survey perceived that lawyers are more interested in winning than in justice and more interested in making money than in serving clients. I strongly believe that this perception is ill-informed and fails to take into account the countless hours of pro bono services the legal community provides.
A public awareness of the hours attorneys donate to pro bono causes would go a long way to rehabilitate our public image. We need to do a better job of both encouraging each other to get involved in pro bono efforts and publicizing that we are providing these services. I know that attorneys participate in pro bono causes to help those in need and not to get recognition. That’s where the BCBA comes in: we are committed to efforts to raise public awareness of our members’ pro bono and community service efforts. BCBA is planning to devote its resources to publicizing the good that our members do in our community.
President-elect Grace Deon and the Strategic Planning Committee recently asked you to submit a narrative about the charitable work you do so that we can highlight our members’ community involvement. BCBA staff will be updating our new website to include an area where you can report the number of hours of pro bono services you provide. I encourage you to help with these efforts by providing the needed information. Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania tracks the hours of its pro bono participants, as does the Bucks County Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion program. We plan to take advantage of opportunities to publish this data in The Writs and other publications to let our community know of the efforts of our members.
As a transactional attorney, I am particularly interested in seeking out pro bono opportunities for non-litigators. One of my partners has been actively involved for years in Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (PVLA), where volunteer attorneys negotiate contracts and leases and provide other legal services on a pro bono or reduced cost basis to artists, dancers, musicians and authors in the Greater Philadelphia area. Lawyers who volunteer with the Bucks County Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion program meet with homeowner clients and a representative of their mortgage lender to try to negotiate a plan to avoid foreclosure. The Wills for Heroes program administered by the Pennsylvania Bar Association provides an opportunity to draft basic estate planning documents for military veterans and first responders. Finally, I am pleased to report that our Pro Bono committee is exploring a program to help individuals expunge their criminal records, subject to certain parameters, so as to remove hurdles to employment, education and other opportunities. I will keep an eye out for other pro bono opportunities that are suitable for corporate and transactional attorneys and encourage everyone to get involved in pro bono efforts that match their skill set.
In April, I had the pleasure of hearing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak at Bryn Mawr College, where she was awarded the Katharine Hepburn Medal for her commitment to civic engagement. I found her remarks to be inspirational. In another venue, she noted the importance of providing pro bono services:
We educated, privileged lawyers have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice.
I hope that you will heed Justice Sotomayor’s words, make or renew your commitment to provide pro bono services, and allow BCBA to publicly applaud your efforts along with those of our other members.
As always, I welcome your input and suggestions – feel free to call or e-mail me any time. Thank you for choosing to be a member of the Bucks County Bar Association.