BY DANIEL D. CLARK
“I want you!”
I’m not referring to the super cool and catchy KISS song from their 1976 “Rock and Roll Over” album. Rather, the title to this month’s President’s Corner refers to my sincere desire as WSBA president that, following Pro Bono Month in October, each of you strongly consider volunteering at the WSBA and/or providing pro bono legal services as a way to help the WSBA fulfill its mission and to serve the public. If you’re already doing so, I hope that you will continue; and if you have in the past but stopped for one reason or another, I hope you will decide to re-engage in volunteering at the WSBA. We want and need you!
VOLUNTEERING AT THE WSBA
The commitment and support of volunteers allows the WSBA to achieve its mission “to serve the public and the members of the Bar, to ensure the integrity of the legal profession, and to champion justice.” As many of you know, volunteering offers many benefits and rewards. Volunteering is also what allows the WSBA to provide needed programs and services and to assist the legal profession and the public. The WSBA has hardworking and talented staff, but the time and expertise that WSBA volunteers donate allows the organization to go well beyond the limits of its annual budget and to do much more to carry out its mission.
Over the last few years, the WSBA has seen a decline in members volunteering their time. Part of this may be attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, or perhaps to volunteer burnout, which seems to be a trend occurring nationally. Nonetheless, it does concern me, because the WSBA relies on volunteers to maintain its current level of services to the public and to WSBA members.
As WSBA president, one of the things I would like to see us do this year is to have more recruitment, retention, and re-engagement of WSBA members as volunteers at our Bar Association. The WSBA annually relies on more than 1,000 volunteer members to help perform its mandatory and regulatory responsibilities and to provide member benefits and services. Each volunteer brings their unique time, skills, talents, and experiences that help create the robust diversity of perspectives necessary for the WSBA to meet its mission. The time commitment varies for each committee or volunteer activity. Committee appointments are based on availability, interest, geographic distribution, area of practice, and other factors. More information about volunteer opportunities can be found here: www.wsba.org/connect-serve/volunteer-with-wsba.
From my own experience, volunteering at the WSBA has been very rewarding professionally and personally. It has allowed me to self-improve, to network, to build relationships with colleagues, and to meet attorneys and legal professionals around the state I would not have met but for my volunteer service. It has exposed me to so many different areas of the law and really allowed me to learn about our Bar Association. The relationships I’ve formed are now a resource that I utilize in my daily legal practice. I can honestly say I’m a more confident and better attorney from my six years of service on the Board of Governors and volunteering at the WSBA.
PROVIDING PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICES
Washington Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 discusses the responsibility of lawyers to take on pro bono work. It provides in pertinent part that lawyers should assist “in the provision of legal services to those unable to pay.”
Each year we honor members who have self-reported 50 or more hours of volunteer pro bono legal services. It’s my hope that each of you, if you didn’t meet this threshold for 2022, will strongly resolve to do so in 2023. I look forward to signing pro bono recognition certificates as part of honoring our members for this important service!
Early in my legal career I had the amazing opportunity to serve as a law clerk for the Yakima County Superior Court. One of the superior court judges I clerked for was Judge Michael Schwab. I credit most of what I know about legal professionalism to Judge Schwab. He repeatedly would tell me what a privilege it was to be an attorney, and that it was something to never take for granted. He also would constantly tell me how important pro bono legal services were to our profession and the public we serve, and how everyone should have fair and equal access to justice. I’ve tried to make Judge Schwab proud by following his wisdom and teachings during my career. I have volunteered at least 50 hours of legal services per year since obtaining my bar license in 2004. I’ve been able to help people with legal issues and questions, people who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to justice. I’m also proud to be a member of the Yakima County Volunteer Attorney Services Board of Directors.
One way to get involved in volunteering is to consider joining the WSBA’s Low Bono Section. What is low bono? In a broad sense, low bono is the principle of increasing access to law-related services for people of moderate means who do not qualify for pro bono assistance but cannot afford the fees private attorneys typically charge under traditional law firm models.
Whether you choose to provide pro bono or low bono legal services or join a WSBA committee or board, it’s my hope that each of you will consider volunteering in 2023 as a way to help continue our commitment to serving the public. To encourage you, I’d like to share a story frequently used by the late Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst: A man sees a person walking along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. There are millions on them on the beach. The man approaches the other person and asks, “Why are you wasting your time throwing these starfish back into the ocean? With that many on the beach, how can you think you can make a difference?” The person helping the starfish picks another one up and throws it into the ocean and says, “I made a difference to that one.”
While none of us alone can solve access to justice and unmet civil legal needs in our community, we can make a difference to one client at a time. Before I was an attorney, I remember how scary, frustrating, and hopeless it felt to need legal assistance and not be able to afford it. So please get involved in volunteering at your Bar and in providing pro bono legal services to the public.
We truly need and want you (to volunteer)!