The California Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules) provide the minimum standards that lawyers must meet to avoid discipline by the State Bar. A lawyer’s professional responsibilities, however, extend beyond those rules. As Comment  to Rule 1.0 instructs, a lawyer is not only a “representative and advisor of clients,” but “an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibilities for the quality of justice.”
Part of our responsibility is to assist in making the justice system accessible to all. Lawyers “should be aware of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance.” Rule 1.0, Comment . Further, we are “encouraged to devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to the system of justice for those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.” Id.
One way to facilitate access is to make legal representation more affordable. Under Business and Professions Code section 6068(h), it is the duty of every attorney “[n]ever to reject, for any consideration personal to himself or herself, the cause of the defenseless or the oppressed.” Moreover, lawyers are called to provide legal services on a pro bono basis to those who need them. As Business and Professions Code section 6073 exhorts: “It has been the tradition of those learned in the law and licensed to practice law in this state to provide voluntary pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford the help of a lawyer. Every lawyer authorized and privileged to practice law in California is expected to make a contribution.” Comment  to Rule 1.0 adds that “every lawyer should aspire to render at least fifty hours of pro bono publico legal services per year,” with a substantial majority of those hours to “indigent individuals or to nonprofit organizations with a primary purpose of providing services to the poor or on behalf of the poor or disadvantaged.” See ABA Model Rule 6.1.
Lawyers can find pro bono opportunities through local bar associations and community organizations. (See, for example, BASF’s Justice and Diversity Center website.) If providing pro bono services directly is infeasible, a lawyer may fulfill this ethical responsibility in part by financially supporting organizations that do provide such services. Bus. & Prof. Code, §6073.
Lawyers may facilitate access to justice in other ways, such as by volunteering for bar association programs that educate the community on legal rights and the legal system, helping courts maintain critical dispute resolution forums as a mediator or judge pro tem, or engaging in public service activities that address bias issues or social barriers to legal representation. Bus. & Prof. Code, §6073. By these and other efforts, we may continue to strive toward a justice system accessible to all.
About the Author:
Carl W. Chamberlin is an attorney, adjunct professor, and Vice-Chair of the BASF Legal Ethics Committee. The views expressed in this article are his own.