As all of us near the end of the year and get ready to celebrate the holidays and ring in 2015, I’d ask that all of us try to do something good for another. There are many examples of ready opportunities such as the State Bar Association’s Lawyers Feeding New Jersey campaign or participating at our Bar Foundation’s children’s holiday party. All of us accept these challenges for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do.
Even in our daily professional lives, pro bono is all about service to others. I recently got the opportunity to help someone through a pro bono assignment. As a civil litigator, of course it was inevitable that my pro bono assignment was a domestic violence case in the family part. When I showed up to court, there were five other defense attorneys on the afternoon docket. None of us had any prior experience in the area of law in which we were working. As we compared notes, I learned that there is a Youtube video that explains how to handle these types of cases. It never even occurred to me to look for that. Of course, I prepared the old fashioned way, I read a book and proceeded to call my friends to beg for help. As the judge began to call the after noon docket, the attorneys looked at each other nervously, silently speculating as to which of us was going to have a trial that afternoon.
I was lucky enough that my client was generally a responsible type of fellow. He had returned my calls in advance of the hearing. He had a regular job and seemed to be trying to do the right thing. My client had reconciled with the complaining witness and they were attempting to work out their marriage. Ultimately, my client took a plea bargain. It seemed a reasonable offer and the client was content with the outcome.
I wonder what would have happened if I had tried the case. I think there was a better than fair chance of an acquittal. For me, there would have been no better feeling of satisfaction than vindication for my client. However, the gamble was not mine to take and I certainly was not the one who would bear the consequences of losing. Although I didn’t get to try the case, I did explain all of the ramifications of accepting the offer.
Pro bono or not, our profession is about serving others. We are always representing the interests of our clients. He considered the pros and cons and proceeded with making a reasoned decision. Interestingly, my pro bono client was in many ways easier than my private clients. He was not expecting “a win,” but instead sought an expeditious resolution that got him back to a normal life. Sometimes our best service to a client is convincing them that the best outcome is not always the obvious one. For anyone who gets a chance, this is a rewarding way to help those who are most in need.