Finding ways to help others through free or discounted legal services is a basic responsibility of any attorney who wishes to assist the community.
But connecting people who need lawyers with lawyers who want to help can sometimes be a challenge. That’s where John G. Simon, who served as 2018-19 president of The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, comes in.
“He was meeting with the pro bono committee, and it seemed like there was a need for some way to match volunteer lawyers with pro bono projects — the smaller ones that maybe would just take a few hours of work and didn’t really need a long-term commitment from a volunteer lawyer,” said Zoe W. Linza, the association’s executive director.
BAMSL is an ardent believer in pro bono and low bono work, Linza said. After a bit of research, the association determined that the state bars of Arizona and Florida employ programs that match attorneys with pro bono work via software.
“John is a huge pro bono advocate that lawyers should give back to the community. But sometimes it becomes somewhat cumbersome to connect the person in need of services and the attorney,” Linza said. “This was a solution that we didn’t even know was out there until we researched it a little bit.”
After vetting the options, BAMSL decided to go with SavvySuit, a company that creates legal software programs, for its Pro Bono Software Project. While development still is underway, the project eventually will place a new element on the BAMSL website that will enable its members to view potential projects that need work.
“Low bono” cases with discounted fees would be available as well. Matters could be filtered by area of law, and attorneys could receive notification emails when posted projects meet their preferences. Once connected, the lawyer and the client could meet to discuss the details of payment and scope of representation.
“We want to see as many attorneys and potential clients engaged with the resource as possible,” Eli Mattern, CEO & general counsel of SavvySuit, wrote in a letter to the association’s leadership. “We look forward to working with BAMSL on this incredible project.”
The demand is certainly there. Linza said research indicates that 80 percent of people in the United States have unmet legal needs.
“I think it is really important that we use technology to help people who are in need of legal service to have access to it without having to go through a cumbersome selection process,” she said. “It is also important for attorneys who want to give an hour or two or three of pro bono service but can’t take on a long-term court case. It is an opportunity to say ‘Hey, I’d like to help this person, and I can do this from my desk today or tonight — or in my pajamas, for that matter.’”
BAMSL hopes to have the project in operation by summer 2020.
“There will be some implementation, but we would hope in the next six months to have it up and running,” Linza said.
Moreover, she said, she believes this idea could serve as a model for others if it becomes popular at BAMSL.
“There are not a lot of bar associations doing this, but I think you will see it begin to take hold,” she said.