October is Pro Bono Month in many states, including Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Indiana, Tennessee, and Alabama. The ABA has created an annual weeklong National Pro Bono Celebration, which this year is October 19-25. Recognizing the countless lawyers who devote their time and efforts to representing people of limited means, and urging all lawyers to do more, these pronouncements remind us that every attorney has an ethical responsibility to make sure that our system of justice is open to all persons, regardless of income. In fact, the rules of professional conduct of many states provide that lawyers should provide at least 25 hours of pro bono legal services for the benefit of persons of limited means on an annual basis.
Some attorneys who practice trademark and copyright law may think that pro bono is not for them, as low-income people rarely seek legal assistance with IP-related problems. This is not true! There are several ways that IP lawyers can get involved in meaningful pro bono efforts. Here are some suggestions:
- Volunteer to handle the IP needs of a nonprofit organization that serves people of limited means. My very first pro bono client was in the business of publishing Teen Voices, a magazine written by and for teenage girls. As you can imagine, there are many copyright, trademark and licensing issues associated with publishing a magazine.
- Contact an organization that serves the legal needs of artists in your area. One example is the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts which provides legal services, advice, and education programming to artists and cultural organizations in Massachusetts, and matches pro bono attorneys with pro bono clients. Other states have similar programs.
- Ask the Public Interest Intellectual Property Law Advisors for a pro bono case.
- Consult the pro bono page of the International Trademark Association for ideas and resources.
- Consider going out of your comfort zone. Many pro bono organizations and bar associations offer trainings to prepare lawyers to represent pro bono clients in specific areas such as housing, special education, and domestic violence. I took a pro bono special education case through the Children’s Law Center last year, and was surprised at how much of a difference my participation seemed to make in the process, even though I am not a specialist in that area of the law.
- If you can’t make the time for pro bono work right now, consider making a financial contribution to your local legal services organization or bar foundation. They will put your money to good use!
With the helpful assistance of Rebecca Cazabon, the Pro Bono Managing Attorney at Foley Hoag, I have listed below several organizations offering pro bono opportunities that IP lawyers may find to be of interest. If there are other programs or resources that you would recommend, please share them with us via comment so that we can post them to this page. Thanks for considering how you can make a difference through pro bono work.
Boston Bar Association Pro Bono Month Calendar includes pro bono trainings and events around the state, including information about a Pro Bono Fair for lawyers and law students being held at Suffolk Law School on October 20, 2014.
Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center provides pro-bono legal services to appropriate clients on issues relating to the Internet, new technology, and intellectual property.
Kids in Need of Defense helps unaccompanied children who have come to the United States without a parent or legal guardian, and are unable to find or afford an attorney to represent them in immigration proceedings.
Lawyers Clearinghouse matches nonprofits and guests of area homeless shelters with pro bono lawyers.
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Economic Justice Project provides educational opportunities and facilitates legal representation for entrepreneurs in under-served communities of color who have started or plan to start small businesses.
MassProBono is a statewide website lawyers can use to find a variety of pro bono opportunities in Massachusetts.
MBA Pro Bono Opportunities Guide provides a comprehensive listing of statewide agencies that are in need of pro bono assistance.
Online Media Legal Network At Harvard’s Berkman Center is a free legal referral service that connects qualifying online journalism ventures and digital media creators with lawyers willing to provide legal services on a pro bono or reduced-fee basis.
Political Asylum/Representation Project provides pro bono immigration legal services to asylum-seekers and immigrants.
Suffolk Law School’s Intellectual Property & Entrepreneurship Clinic provides pro bono legal assistance on intellectual property and business law issues to entrepreneurs, nonprofits, inventors, artists, authors, filmmakers, designers and musicians.
USPTO Pro Bono Legal Assistance Program announced a pilot program to provide pro bono help to independent inventors seeking patent assistance.
Victim Rights Law Center provides legal representation to victims of rape and sexual assault.
Volunteer Lawyers Project provides free civil legal assistance to low-income residents of Greater Boston, primarily through the pro bono services of private attorneys.
Women’s Bar Foundation provides low-income women facing domestic violence and elders with access to legal representation.