May 25, 2018
President’s Message By Hal Coffey
As president of the ACBA, you would think I have a grasp of all of the outstanding programs and efforts within our bar association umbrella. To the contrary, in my capacity as president, rather than walking in knowing everything during the course of my year at the helm, I have been exposed to more and more tremendous programs and benefits of the ACBA.
During a recent ACBA Finance Committee meeting and following up on the KD & You and the Law call-in program we did in April, a report of the excellent work of the attorney panelists and staff for the Lawyer Referral Services program was brought up. LRS is one of those ideal programs of the ACBA in that it serves as a referral source for our members while also being a critical service to the public within our community. For those who don’t know, potential clients can either call 412-261-5555 or go on to the LRS website at GetAPittsburghLawyer.com, which is also where attorneys can go to sign up for a panel. Callers are matched up with an attorney panelist in the specific area of law for which the potential client has a need. The panelist provides a 30-minute free consultation and the parties consider representation from there.
Early on in my practice, I was a panelist for LRS in order to start generating my own client base. It was a great way to get things started as a young lawyer. Though I was familiar with the process, I was not aware of the Modest Means Panel within LRS. That panel is intended to capture the needs of our working poor – those whose income is too much to qualify for Neighborhood Legal Services but not enough to afford regularly priced attorney rates. To qualify, a person must fall within 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines before taxes. Upon qualification, the individual is able to get a number of legal services for a flat fee or hourly rate that has been pre-determined by LRS. The attorney member participating on the Modest Means Panel must agree that they will adhere to that schedule of fees.
As the ACBA and this column have touted before, the ACBA Pro Bono Center is another great resource for members to match up with pro bono opportunities in the community. You can go to PittsburghProBono.org to find the program that works best for you. In addition, we have emergent situations that arise where more immediate help is needed. As director of the Pro Bono Center, Barbara Griffin sent out an email to Real Property Section members recently to help the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency find volunteer attorneys to help victims of the Route 30 landslide in East Pittsburgh. Those opportunities pop up every so often and are relayed within specific sections and committees of the ACBA as well as within the ACBA Sidebar. My own pro bono work has been for the NLSA Protection from Abuse Project representing indigent plaintiffs in PFA matters. It has been a way to utilize the skills and experience I acquired during my short time as a family law attorney and put it to good use.
And now, if you were looking for another reason to consider starting to provide pro bono services or to ramp up our efforts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just announced a long-discussed pilot program which would award CLE credit to Pennsylvania attorneys. This three-year pilot program will enable registered Pennsylvania attorneys to receive one CLE credit for every five hours of pro bono legal work completed through certificate legal service providers. It is intended to increase support for civil legal aid for low-income Pennsylvanians.
The ACBA and numerous members individually have long supported this idea to increase the stock of attorneys providing pro bono services. Cuts in funding for civil legal aid nationally and statewide have made the need for pro bono attorneys ever more important.
With this additional incentive, I hope to see even more ACBA attorneys answering the call for the indigent and working poor amongst us whose need for legal services increases each day. I greatly appreciate all of the general volunteering ACBA members do in their communities every day, but in our unique position as professionals in the practice of law, providing pro bono services from our honed skills is the ultimate mitzvah!