Winter 2008 - #7. Hurdling the Barriers to Pro Bono Representation.

Author:by Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.

Vermont Bar Journal


Winter 2008 - #7.

Hurdling the Barriers to Pro Bono Representation

The Vermont Bar Journal #176, Volume 34, No. 4 WINTER 2008

Hurdling the Barriers to Pro Bono Representationby Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.The pages of this issue of the Journal contain a thank you note to attorneys who have contributed pro bono time in 2008 as part of the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project. Eighty-seven Vermont lawyers are recognized for their participation with VVLP, which will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary in May. Added to this generous group of volunteers are many other attorneys who give counsel, advice, and representation free or at a reduced fee through legal clinics, in family and probate court programs, through Violence Against Women's Act representation, as public defenders, and in those countless day to day consultations or transactions done quietly without charge.

But there remain many Vermonters who are not represented by counsel when they need it most. Many Vermont attorneys hesitate to take a pro bono case because of real or perceived barriers to their participation. Some are reluctant to enter into a lengthy or complex case because of the difficulty of extricating themselves at the completion of their legal task. Retired attorneys and judges on inactive status cannot represent those in need because of bar membership rules. These barriers are not unique to Vermont, and across the country bar associations and court rule-making bodies are promulgating rules allowing and encouraging greater participation for pro bono attorneys.

Unbundling Vermont Superior and Family Court Rules

Unbundling of legal services allows an attorney to assist an otherwise pro se client with a discrete legal task short of full representation. The scope of the representation is agreed upon between attorney and client, preferably in writing. The attorney may enter a limited appearance in a court action to provide representation at a particular hearing, and then withdraw. The attorney might not appear, but might prepare a legal brief, conduct discovery, or review settlement proposals.

The ability to unbundle legal services is a boon to recruiting pro bono attorneys. Lawyers who are reluctant to enter into a lengthy landlord-tenant eviction matter with habitability counterclaims may be willing to represent a tenant in a...

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