‘Twas the night before deposition

No silent night or flying reindeer, just a poem on the need for a good volunteer

Pro Bono

Meg Benson has worked for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the oldest pro bono organization in the country, for more than 30 years. As executive director, she coordinates the agency’s bench, bar and law firm relations and directs its program management and funding. A family law litigator, she still handles minor guardianship and custody cases.
mcb@cvls.org

December 2017

Last year when the month of December rolled ‘round,

I met a mysterious man dressed in brown.

He wasn’t your usual courier type.

No messenger ever comes smoking a pipe.

He seemed to be breaking some physical laws,

But he wasn’t your typical Santa Claus.

He might have been Hanukkah Harry, some say,

But I think he transcended that holiday.

 

He offered a gift to help my career,

Meant to be opened throughout the next year.

This odd little guy who appeared from nowhere

Then stated his case with an eloquent flair.

And now I think I should follow his lead,

By passing to you his end-of-year creed.

He gave me a gift which I give to you,

As long as you promise to hand it off too.

 

“I bring you a gift — a professional sort,

Whether you dabble in contracts or practice in tort.

My gift is pro bono,” he said with a grin.

“You know, donating your work is hardly a sin.

You hate your profession ‘cause you’ve left out a part.

One most important — the part with a heart.

You’ve got a great talent, you’ve got a degree,

But you’re headed toward legal mediocrity.

 

“Low-income clients who can’t afford you

Have no one to turn to — what can they do?

The doors of the court are locked to them now,

But you hold the keys. Your question is how?

 

“How can you help them? Sure, money’s one way.

But being their lawyer’s another one. Say —

Give of yourself — you’ve got some to spare.

One-on-one contact — act like you care.

Our laws are for humans, our profession is too.

Helping people who need you will mostly help you.”

 

I questioned his statements (who the heck was this guy?)

But decided to give his suggestion a try.

“So maybe I’m willing, but what should I do?

I don’t know where to find this ‘pro bono,’ do you?”

He held out his hand and gave a wink of his eye.

The file in his palm was his only reply.

“When you finish this case, then come back for more.

You’ll find this pro bono’s not really a chore.

Pro bono’s my gift — yes, it’s working for free

That will honor your name for posterity.”

 

I tried his proposal and, guess what, he’s right.

This odd little guy made a difference that night.

You may not believe me. You’ll think that I’m weird.

But this pro bono stuff’s not as bad as I feared.

 

When I took on that case, I did it for free.

In fact, I did it victoriously.

After that I did more, in rapid succession.

I learned that I actually like my profession.

I like what I practice. I like what I do.

I even like most of my partners, who knew?

 

I guess what I’m saying — I’m here to tell you

I think you should try this pro bono stuff too.

This odd little man made a convert of me

With his ameliorative legal philosophy.

 

Whatever type lawyer you think that you are

Make pro bono a part of your repertoire.

As I follow my friend and skip out of sight,

Pro bono to all and to all a good night!
 

Editor’s note: This poem on beating those pro bono fears you know originally ran in ’04 — 13 years ago! Meg tweaked it a touch for these modern ages and it graces again this magazine’s pages.