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The non-traditional form of pro bono

It is no secret that one of the best things about being a member of the Maryland Bar is the lack of mandatory CLEs and mandatory pro bono work. I’m not saying that Maryland’s attorneys are not among the finest, well-educated, and most civic-minded, but I’ve never been a fan of forcing attorneys to do “free” work. Because each attorney’s normal practice, skills, availability, and comfort level with pro bono varies, I very much support the practice of “aspirational” pro bono in Maryland. I see no need to change this practice — in 2013, the most recent year for data, Maryland attorneys performed nearly 1.2 million hours of pro bono work.

While many may consider the “traditional” form of pro bono, i.e., the uncompensated representation of indigent clients, as the only accepted form of pro bono, Rule 6.1 of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct outlines the various types of recognized pro bono activities. As a federal government attorney, I am limited in the scope of permissible pro bono activities by statute.

But instead of simply giving up, I like to find non-traditional forms of pro bono work, such as the kind I did this past weekend.

My alma mater, the University of Maryland School of Law, hosted a regional qualifying competition for the American Mock Trial Association’s annual national tournament. UMD Law has hosted this tournament for several years, welcoming teams of college students from schools throughout the Mid-Atlantic to Baltimore to compete against each other for a spot in the national championship. Students spend months preparing and analyzing a mock case for presentation to a “jury.” Each tournament is held over two days and consists of four rounds. Two-to-three judges are needed for each round, so depending on the number of teams participating, dozens of volunteers are needed to be judges.

Every year prior to the competition, I receive a “call for judges” from UMD Law, a request that goes out to lawyers, professors, judges and law students. I have answered the call every year since my 3L year in law school.

Volunteering as a judge, I believe, falls squarely within one of the “non-traditional” forms of pro bono activities recognized in Rule 6.1 “for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession.” Many of these college students go on to attend law school after graduation and later practice law. The courtroom skills these young adults gain, with the help of their coaches, professors, and the volunteer judges (like me) who provide feedback and tips are invaluable for students eager to enter the profession. I take pride in giving up a weekend in the winter to watch these college students tackle difficult trial subjects and navigate the rules of evidence (some of these students are so spot-on with the hearsay rules!) and hopefully provide them with feedback, insights, and helpful suggestions.

I encourage all young attorneys to think about pro bono as more than just providing free legal representation to the indigent. Services to the legal profession and education are just as important. How do you engage in non-traditional forms of pro bono?

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