No lawyer, no law

8 Dec

Pro bono publico
Redeeming the touch of justice that brought each of us to the Bar

By Howard B. Miller
President, State Bar of California

Miller
Unfortunately the colloquial meaning of pro bono has become legal services for free, at no cost. But the proper meaning and importance of the words is in the full Latin quote: for the public good.

Several almost simultaneous developments have brought us to a tipping point in the commitment of the legal profession to pro bono work, and in our understanding that it is for the public good.

No lawyer, no law

We were all caught unawares in the past year not only by the scope of the loan foreclosure crisis, but by the cracks and failures that it showed in our legal system. We know of too many cases where homeowners would have had legal defenses to foreclosure, but without lawyers in our California system of non-judicial foreclosure the result was a loss of homes. For over a century our legislature and courts have constructed an elaborate series of technicalities and protections for homeowners faced with foreclosure. But the existence of those protections made no difference to those who had no legal representation. It is as though all those laws did not exist, as though because there was no representation all the work and thought that went into those laws and protections had never been done.

And so we learned again, with a vengeance: No lawyer, no law.

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