Enrich Your Life in 2017: Easy Pro Bono
Keith A. Call, J.
“Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Utah R. Prof’l Conduct 6.1.
In May 1997, I met Charlotte Martinez at a pro bono landlord-tenant clinic. Charlotte’s landlord had just issued a three-day notice to vacate her apartment for failure to pay rent. Charlotte went to the Matheson Courthouse for a possession bond hearing. She was scared, lost, and baffled. She was particularly distressed because she believed she had a valid defense: she had timely tendered the full amount of rent due, but the landlord has refused to accept it.
My fellow associate, Adam Price, and I agreed to represent Charlotte at the bond hearing. The judge was sympathetic to our story but, somewhat tied by then-existing landlord–tenant law, required Charlotte to post a $1,000 bond to avoid eviction. Unable to post the bond, Charlotte lost her apartment even though she did nothing wrong.
That did not sit well with Adam and me so we agreed to continue representing Charlotte. We continued to guide her through the process, filed a counterclaim for abuse of process, and proceeded to get an expedited trial setting. Adam discovered that the landlord, a business entity, was not properly registered to do business in Utah. At the trial, Adam successfully argued that the complaint should be dismissed on that basis, and the court agreed. We then proceeded to a short trial on Charlotte’s counterclaim, in which we won a modest award of $700 for Charlotte, plus attorney fees.
That experience, nearly twenty years ago, truly remains “one of the most rewarding experiences in [my] life [as] a lawyer.” Utah R. Prof’l Conduct 6.1, cmt. . It is equaled only by other similar experiences helping disadvantaged people who were in high distress because of a legal issue.
Limited scope representation at pro bono legal clinics is an easy and a rewarding way for...