D.C. Superior Court Judges Step Up to Recruit More Pro Bono Attorneys
June 06, 2022
On June 14 the D.C. Superior Court will host a virtual event to discuss the District’s need for more attorney volunteers and how judges can assist in efforts to increase access to legal assistance for individuals who cannot afford counsel.
Judge Carmen Guerricagoitia McLean, co-chair of the court’s Committee on Pro Bono and Affordable Counsel, says the committee spent the past year surveying the pro bono programs of comparable jurisdictions and assessing the needs of the District from the perspective of the court.
The committee was established in 2021 by Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring as one of her first steps to comprehensively address the pro bono needs in the District. In addition to Superior Court judges, the committee also includes Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia managing attorney Jodi Feldman and Steptoe & Johnson LLP pro bono counsel Paul Lee.
“What we learned is that the legal services organizations in the District are truly remarkable,” says McLean. “They have taken on this work, individually and cooperatively, and they have recognized all the same needs that the judges see.”
“They have worked very hard to address those needs, but their resources are limited, so one of the things that they do to address the gap is recruit pro bono lawyers from outside of their organizations. Even with those efforts there is still a tremendous gap,” McLean adds.
So, rather than attempt to re-create the programs established by the legal services providers, the committee is looking to increase the involvement of judges. “Our next goal is really twofold,” she says. “First, to take steps at the court to encourage pro bono attorneys to come back again, whether that means making representation more accessible to them by retaining remote hearings, or simply being understanding that pro bono attorneys are taking cases outside of their area of expertise.”
Second, Superior Court judges will be speaking out about “the impact of pro bono lawyers for the litigants, the difference it makes in their outcomes, and the value it provides to the court,” McLean says. “If you have pro se litigants, it can be difficult to get the information on the record necessary to make the right decision.”
The committee will also be interacting with law firms, many of which have already been notified about the committee’s offer to send judges to discuss the pro bono needs and opportunities in and around the court. McLean says the committee intends to extend the offer to the smaller firms and individual practitioners in the District.
The court’s upcoming event will introduce the committee, discuss the experiences of volunteer attorneys, highlight pro bono opportunities in the District, and distribute materials produced by the court that can help attorneys assess which organizations and commitments are appropriate for them.
The committee’s work supports and expands upon recent efforts within the pro bono community to better centralize resources and coordinate efforts. Projects like the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network and the Family Law Assistance Network were established in recent years to coordinate the intake and referral of clients seeking pro bono representation.
Meet the committee and learn more about its work by signing up for the remote event .