Michael S. Greco President, American Bar Association. Remarks to First -Year Civil Procedure Class Suffolk University Law School

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1 Michael S. Greco President, American Bar Association Remarks to First -Year Civil Procedure Class Suffolk University Law School Boston, Massachusetts April 13, 2006 I thank Professor Karen Blum for inviting me share some thoughts with you today. I will not be lecturing today on Civil Procedure, although I fondly remember my class at Boston College Law School a few years ago. I know you must be disappointed not to be grappling with rules of procedure this hour, and hope you can get over it.. I hope that you enjoyed the DVD of the program produced by the ABA Commission on a Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession that we just viewed. It inspires me to hear great lawyers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ted Sorensen and Dennis Archer speak personally about what it means to be a lawyer. If you want to share the DVD with your classmates, it is available for viewing and downloading on the ABA website at I decided to make pro bono and public service issues a central theme of my term as President of the ABA after spending many hours talking with young lawyers and law students across the country who expressed a desire to achieve a greater balance in their professional and personal lives. I don t need to tell you that you have chosen to pursue a highly demanding, and rewarding profession. Many of you are probably experiencing greater demands on your time and energy than you have ever experienced before. And for most of you, the load will not lighten once you enter the practice of law. BOS v /2/2007

2 The realities of the modern practice of law, and the business model of the billable hour that predominates in private practice, pose challenges to law students and new lawyers that are very different from those that law graduates of my generation faced. The challenges include these: - Does educational debt allow you to pursue a career in public interest law or government service? - How much time will you have for a full and rewarding personal and family life while striving to establish your practice whether in the private or public sector? -How much time and support will you have to perform pro bono and public service work? These are not easy questions, and I don t have easy answers to them. But I want to highlight a few strategies that I believe can help you answer them. The first stems from the work of the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession, which I appointed last August to help promote a greater commitment to pro bono and public service work. The Commission s first project was to compile an on-line Resource Guide of Best Practices in Pro Bono and Public Service. The Best Practices Guide is a great tool for law firms and individual lawyers, and law schools and law students, to utilize in seeking out the best approaches to pro bono and public service work. It contains more than 160 examples of innovative and successful programs in a variety of practice settings and law schools to promote pro bono and public service work. I encourage you to visit the Best Practices Resource Guide website at to learn more about programs that can build on and complement the opportunities offered here at Suffolk University Law School. The Renaissance Commission is also looking at an issue of great concern to law students and college students considering law school: the mounting debt burden, and how to deal with it, especially for those who want to pursue a career in public service. 2

3 Consider this: The average debt burden on graduates of public law schools is $70,000, and of private law schools exceeds $100,000, and is as high as $130,000 for many. A 2003 ABA survey of law students showed that loan debt prevented 66% of respondents from pursuing a public service career. Law schools and bar foundations are helping by providing scholarships and access to loan repayment assistance programs, but more needs to be done to enable law students to pursue careers in public service and the public sector. The ABA works very closely with the American Association of Law Schools on these issues, and law school deans and professors across the country are very active in advocating for loan forgiveness programs that are realistic and attractive options for law graduates. Loan forgiveness is one of the ABA s top 12 legislative lobbying priorities. The House of Representatives passed HR609, with an amendment to make public service and area of national need, making workers eligible for up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness. The ABA is strongly supporting expansion of the loan forgiveness privisions in pending legislation. The ABA is also supporting S2039 to provide loan forgiveness for law graduates who become prosecutors and public defenders. The bill has bi-partisan support and we hope that it moves through Congress. Law students need to add their voices on these issues, which affect you so directly. To learn more, visit the ABA website at and click on Legislative and Governmental Advocacy. The ABA Law Student Division, with more than 50,000 members and growing, is actively addressing loan forgiveness and other issues of importance to law students. You can learn 3

4 more about the work of the Division, and join, by logging on to the ABA website and clicking on Divisions. I strongly recommend it to you. Another strategy for achieving the kind of balance in your personal and professional lives that you will seek as lawyers, and that you will need, is to band together to voice your concerns, your good ideas, and your desires to your professors, and later on, your supervising or managing partners. Law students and young lawyers may sometimes feel like they are powerless until they have achieved a certain level of seniority and experience. I m not trying to foment a revolution here, but I am suggesting that by joining forces with others who share your concerns about the future of the legal profession and especially about your ability to fulfill the time-honored role of Lawyer as Public Citizen you will have far greater influence than you would as individual voices in the proverbial wilderness. You may be surprised to learn that many mid-career and veteran lawyers feel the same way about the lack of time and support to perform pro bono and public service work. You will inherit the profession, you will be the stewards of the idealism and noble principles of our profession and you have a responsibility to yourselves, to the lawyers who will come after you, and to your fellow Americans to ensure that it reflects your and our highest ideals. The ABA Law Student Division and Young Lawyers Division, and similar sub-groups within state and local bar associations across the country, provide a forum for organizing yourselves around what you feel to be the defining issues in the practice of law. No matter what area of law you choose, you can make valuable contributions to your communities and to the application of the law as an instrument to promote justice for all. Pro bono work, for instance, is not limited to litigators. Lawyers who do purely transactional law, who rarely if ever appear in court, play invaluable roles in helping a wide 4

5 range of individual clients, small and independent businesses, and nonprofit organizations deal with important legal matters. You will have wonderful opportunities to develop your professional service ethic here in law school, through clinical and pro bono work. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities, even if it seems at times that your daily schedule is too full already. I understand that a group of Suffolk Law students held a program the other day to describe their experiences volunteering during spring break to help Louisiana repair its legal system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I commend those of you who are volunteering to provide legal services and, more importantly, giving hope, to the hurricane victims. I visited New Orleans last week and can verify that the destruction is impossible to fully grasp until you see it first hand. Along with the physical wreckage and human misery, the justice system in Louisiana and Mississippi has been devastated. There is no functioning public defender system in New Orleans, leaving thousands of prisoners waiting in jail, their status uncertain, with no access to a lawyer. There are certainly very serious alleged offenders among this group, but a substantial number have been held for many months on minor charges. Your fellow students provided a great service by traveling to Louisiana to help reconstruct documentation for these prisoners and help reorganize a system in chaos. Law students and law schools across the country have stepped up to help victims of the hurricanes. The fundraising drive organized by the ABA Law Student Division netted more than $300,000 for various relief agencies. And law schools opened their doors to displaced students 5

6 from Tulane and Loyola law schools many of whom returned to their home campuses earlier this year. Hurricane Katrina is not only the most destructive and costly natural disaster in our nation s history it has also precipitated the biggest legal services crisis we have ever witnessed. The response of the American legal profession must match the scale of the need. It means that more lawyers must perform more pro bono work for people affected by this disaster, and for all Americans needing help with basic legal needs. The danger in the wake of any disaster, of course, is that the sense of urgency and commitment dissipates over time. We cannot allow that to happen in this instance, and we also must commit ourselves to seeing beyond one crisis no matter how devastating it may be to grasp the even larger problem: Even before the destruction of the hurricanes, we already faced a situation where 70-80% of the legal needs of lower-income Americans go unmet year after year. This stark reality is one that will continue to haunt us unless we take bold action to see that the promise of equal justice for all does not ring hollow. That is why another major initiative of my term as ABA President is to address the enormous unmet civil legal needs of the poor in our country, and seek a long-term solution to what I believe is a national shame. I have appointed the ABA Task Force on Access to Civil Justice to take on two specific issues: First, the Task Force is working to promote the expansion of state-based access to justice commissions, which have shown great promise and results in more than 20 states in crafting local solutions to local legal services needs. 6

7 With funding for the federal the Legal Services Corporation staying basically flat and inadequate over time, we cannot continue to look only to Congress to address the unmet legal needs of the poor. I have also asked this Task Force to consider another idea whose time has come: a defined right to counsel in certain serious civil cases. In Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that an indigent criminal defendant has a constitutional right to counsel. But we have yet to recognize such a right for poor Americans facing equally serious civil legal problems, problems that they cannot address without the help of counsel problems that can imprison one just as surely in poverty or discrimination. It is time that we consider providing such a right as many nations of the world already have for serious civil matters that threaten the integrity of one s family, shelter or health. ******************************** I thank Professor Blum again for inviting me to speak with you today, and I thank you for your attention. I am happy to take any questions you may have about pro bono and public service or anything else on your mind. 7

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