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Bar President's Message


Richard D'Addario, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

For the Public Good 

Richard P. D'Addario, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

“Doing pro bono work gives us the opportunity to work with other clients that we may not otherwise represent in our practice, and it allows us, in many cases, to gain expertise outside our usual practice areas."
 
One of the reasons I have always been proud of the legal profession and my status as a lawyer is that we contribute in so many ways to the public good. In addition to solving the legal problems of our paying clients, lawyers devote a good deal of their time to pro bono work.
 
The term “pro bono publico” means that, unlike traditional volunteering, we use our special skills and knowledge to provide services to individuals who cannot afford those necessary services and to organizations that are dedicated to acting for the public good.
 
As you are aware, Rhode Island has adopted the recommendation of the American Bar Association: Our Rules of Professional Conduct recognizes that along with the privilege to practice law comes a responsibility to use our skills to assist those in need and to improve the legal profession. Although Rule 6.1 does not require pro bono work, the rule “encourages” us to devote a minimum of 50 hours per year to pro bono work. This can be done by direct representation without a fee or by providing services for a reduced fee, as well as participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession. We should all aspire to achieve that recommendation.
 
I was fortunate in my first years of practice to be employed by Rhode Island Legal Services, and I became acutely aware of the fact that life is not so easy for some of us. In those five years, I learned that the legal problems associated with the less fortunate in our society are real, sometimes complex, and helping resolve them was at times life-changing for some of them. The ability to help solve some of these issues for my clients was rewarding. As my private practice developed, I found that many times I achieved the greatest satisfaction from helping someone in need, and I was fortunate enough to have the means to do so. I am sure many of us still remember these clients and their cases as we look back on our careers.
 
A study of the American Bar Association in 2018 entitled “Supporting Justice” surveyed members of the Bar in over 20 states. The survey indicated that approximately 20% of the attorneys surveyed provided at least 50 hours of pro bono service each, but it also discovered that one out of five attorneys has never done so. What is encouraging, however, is that over the past 30 years, pro bono work has grown in scope and visibility. Most attorneys understand the need for doing pro bono work and generally have an interest in doing so. Most firms have active programs that include pro bono work for their associates, and law schools across the country have requirements that their students devote a minimum number of hours to pro bono work in order to obtain a degree. In fact, Roger Williams University Law School requires its students to participate in 50 hours of approved pro bono activity in order to receive a degree.
 
I am proud to say that our Rhode Island Bar Association and its members provide substantial representation in pro bono cases. If you are not a member, please consider signing up for the Bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program, ably administered for over 34 years by Public Services Director Susan Fontaine. The VLP program was responsible for the placement of over 470 cases in 2019 and almost 350 in 2020. The Bar Association has approximately 1,200 volunteer attorneys, and there were more than 2,600 hours of direct pro bono work reported by that program in 2020. In addition, in most years the VLP conducts extensive outreach programs through community organizations.
 
Of course, it is always the hope and goal of the Bar Association to enlist more lawyers in providing the types of pro bono representation that most directly benefit less fortunate clients. The Bar offers free CLE programs for those who volunteer, and there is also a mentoring component of the program that will assist attorneys who are less experienced in certain areas involving pro bono work.
 
At the same time, there are many other opportunities for us to offer pro bono work such as participation in Law Day activities, involvement as a judge in the school Mock Trial program, and at the Law School as a Moot Court jurist. All of these activities allow us to fulfill our fifty-hour aspiration.
 
Besides the fiat of Rule 6.1, there are many reasons why we should participate in pro bono work as a part of our profession. In the first place, it makes us all feel like we are doing good, which is always a positive. In addition, it enhances the profession’s public image, something we should all work to achieve every day.
 
Doing pro bono work gives us the opportunity to work with other clients that we may not otherwise represent in our practice, and it allows us, in many cases, to gain expertise outside our usual practice areas. Finally, doing pro bono enhances our own personal reputation and helps build up the goodwill necessary for a successful law practice.
 
I also want to take this opportunity to point out and recognize the extensive contributions we make as attorneys by our participation in community and government activities. So many Rhode Island lawyers take part in their local government, serving on town councils, zoning boards, planning boards, school and budget committees, and other related functions, to say nothing of the numerous nonprofit organizations and boards that enlist our involvement. These contributions are valuable to our local communities and should not go unrecognized. We should always acknowledge and applaud all of this participation for the public good, participation that has become, and will always be, an important and integral part of our profession.