The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Our Extraordinary Pro Bono Lawyers: Following Their Lead in Difficult Times

President's Page

Dori Foster Morales, President, Florida BarEarlier this year, I was honored to present The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Awards to recognize an extraordinary group of lawyers who set the gold standard for how we, in our profession, can give back to our communities. The annual awards went to 21 lawyers who made justice in Florida more accessible and encouraged other Florida Bar members to follow their lead. After a tough several months adjusting to the issues brought on by COVID-19, these lawyers gave me a reason to celebrate. Bar members who donate countless hours of their time to pro bono service not only help to fill the access-to-justice gap by assisting those less fortunate, they show us what virtue, patience, and compassion look like in times when it’s not always easy to do the right thing. They truly have gone above and beyond in terms of pro bono service despite the incredible challenges we have all faced this year.

For the record, our most recent figures show that over the period of July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, Florida Bar members donated an outstanding 1.3 million hours of pro bono service to Floridians in need, as well as $6.3 million to legal aid organizations.

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” The act of giving has power to both the giver and the receiver. Studies show that you feel better when you do something for others. Helping those who cannot afford legal assistance, especially in these trying times, can be just the mood-booster we need. Although we now are seeing the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, which has lifted my spirits, there are still so many unknowns for the future. More patience is required as we move forward.

Many lawyers are now marking an entire year of practicing virtually, instead of collectively in our offices as we did pre-pandemic. We have had to adjust to a new normal, and the stresses and difficulties associated with this transition takes time and patience. Who can guess how much longer we’ll interact using social distancing measures as a guide for everyday life? How much more patience do we need? The example of our pro bono colleagues helps us see that although unknowns are inevitable, patience is possible. Although we have a lot on our plates, there is always room in our lives for generosity. Volunteer work, which is rewarded by the act of giving itself, feeds positive energy into the world. Like stars, pro bono lawyers shine bright.

If we want to give back to a profession that has given us so much in return, now is a great time to do so. The circumstances of the pandemic have caused so much grief in our communities, and volunteer work can offer us a chance to help people in their darkest hour, when nobody else could possibly come to their rescue. Taking a pro bono case also teaches young lawyers to do the same. Attorneys early in their careers can gain useful professional experience from pro bono work upon which to build their futures.

As time passes, we can learn from the lessons provided by our admirable pro bono colleagues and friends: to remain calm in the face of uncertainty, to take one day at a time, to practice patience, to embody the ideals of our profession, and to give ourselves the gift of giving. In volunteering to assist others, we find unexpected joy and optimism and a way to connect with our communities.

And we need to be uplifted now more than ever.

I thank and salute Bar members who contribute their time and efforts so generously. These truly extraordinary advocates reached out to lessen the suffering of their fellow man. They did so not only for the greater benefit of the judicial system and in the good spirit of providing justice for all, but for embodying the ideals we can all possess. Our pro bono colleagues are beacons of hope, they encourage and inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves, and they represent the virtue that we aspire to, but do not always achieve.

I celebrate pro bono lawyers for the good example they set for all attorneys.