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Pro Bono Service

A Transformative Year:

The Next Twenty Years:

A Call for Continued Pro Bono Efforts By Anne Chandler

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. —Bill Gates1


he world of pro bono representation can be done best if the world of disempowered persons is small and the world of law is more efficient. We live today in a world in which the need for pro bono services is immense. Even if the number of pro bono efforts quadruples, as I surely hope it does in the next twenty years, an immense gap would remain between need and meaningful access to justice. The number of persons whose conduct is directly and intensely affected by law is immense. A Continued Need for Pro Bono Services There is a large population of community members who live in dysfunctional personal relationships that cascade into violence and poverty. Until our society can find ways to better deter abuse of physical, sexual, and financial power in personal relationships and better educate people against the pressures of entering into such relationships, the need to protect people through law will persist. Individuals who are not well guided by an attorney can find themselves hitting rock bottom when they face consumer and contract disputes, an adult guardianship issue, or an eviction. As the recent pandemic has made ever clearer, a large number of Texans live on the financial edge. Loss of work is not a temporary matter to be tided over with nonexistent savings or by an equally burdened family, but the trigger for cascading catastrophes, ranging from loss of housing to loss of transportation or even food. Perhaps the next twenty years will bring about some equalization of income and wealth, but I doubt that our nation will greatly reduce the fraction of our population who will be unable to afford an attorney when a legal crisis hits. Against these unremitting needs, our legal system’s substantive and procedural complexity makes it extraordinarily difficult for those without formal training in the law to have much chance at success. For some, pro bono efforts built around a goal of education and assistance to pro se litigants are helpful, but for many others, those efforts fall short. Notwithstanding whatever efforts judges or those involved in the system make to explain matters to individuals snared in complex legal systems, a brief education, often conducted in language quite alien to them, is no substitute for trained counsel. The complexity of filing for child custody or handling the legal affairs of someone who fell ill to dementia will continue to demand a need for skilled attorneys. And at Houston Volunteer Lawyers, I am confident that in twenty years we will remain extremely proud of the thousands of attorneys who volunteer their time to bridge some of the gap between the demand for legal services and its availability. Hope for the Future I have a good deal of hope for the next twenty years. Some of it comes from the horror of the pandemic. I hope the pandemic has shown us that random forces beyond one’s control can result in terrible financial events and that an entitlement to fair adjudication of whatever conflicting interests develop in these settings is little less with some random events, like a business closing or an automobile accident, than it is with a disruptive virus. I hope we have learned from pandemic necessity over the past year that we can conduct judicial business and pro bono legal services more efficiently