How the Grinch stole pro bono

Dr. Seuss couldn’t come up with a better yuletide aside

Pro Bono

Meg Benson

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.

December 2015

The lawyers on low floors loved pro bono a lot.

But the Grinch who officed above them, well no, she did not.

The Grinch hated pro bono. Every bit of it, too.

Now please don’t ask why, she just did, through and through.

The lawyers all wondered why the Grinch was like that.

Some thought that she traveled by broomstick and bat.

Others said that her feet were trapped in tight shoes.

Or believed that her glasses made her view go askew.

Regardless, her rule was no pro bono, no how

No way, never ever, not later, not now.

Years back the Supremes had said pro bono was cool

They even set it out in a rule

But the Grinch simply scowled and told her lawyers “don’t do it.”

When anyone did, she said, “Now you blew it.

Billing for hours is how it should be.

Collect for your service or I’ll set you free.

Free to find another job to do.

I’ll kick you out like a nasty old shoe.”

Sure, everyone said pro bono was good.

But clearly everyone misunderstood.

How could it help her or her kind?

The lawyers who were so badly maligned?

Their job was to work for clients who paid,

“It’s not like we all have it made in the shade.

Work’s hard and it’s dreary and I do it so fine.

I don’t have the time to help freeloading swine.”

Bar moguls entreated, legal aid did it best,

But she grinchily spurned each and every request.

Telling them all she was sick of their spiel.

“Your sad little stories hold no appeal.”

And she thought to herself with a deep furrowed brow,

“I must rid my world of pro bono, but how?”

All that day and that night she pondered away

And by morning’s first light, she had found the way.

Late the next night, when her lawyers were sleeping.

The Grinch sneaked ’round, creepily creeping.

She dived into drawers. She plundered their piles.

She downloaded data and fumbled through files.

She sniffed for pro bono; prowling about.

Hunting and tracking and searching throughout.

As she tiptoed about she grew more and more wary.

The amount of pro bono she found was quite scary!

Every office had several. Some even more.

Squirreled away behind desk, chair and door.

She noticed divorces, for women and men.

Adoptions and lawsuits, evictions and then

She found a huge stack of foreclosure defense

Too much, too much. It didn’t make sense.

Her lawyers were handling cases galore

For odd types of clients — all of them poor!

Poor people! Hah! These cases were done.

Her lawyers were going to end up with just … NONE.

The Grinch filled her bag with all of the files.

All of them, even those scheduled for trials.

So many files, she stuffed her black bag.

And dragged it away like a bent-over hag.

Out in the hall, interns came into view

The two working late, Mindy and Hugh.

“What are you doing with all those files, may we ask?”

“Oh, don’t worry my dears, I have a small task.

I am taking this work to my office tonight

I’ll review all the files to make sure they’re alright.

Then I’ll bring them all back — I’ll work through the night.

They’ll be put in their places as soon as it’s light.”

Then chuckling she heaved the huge bag up high.

And chucked it along to her place in the sky.

Once there, she sat back to wait for the wails.

The gnashing of teeth and the biting of nails.

Later as the sun came up.

While slurping from her coffee cup.

The Grinch heard staff moving about.

Laughing, talking, shouting out.

A pro bono case had been recently won

A case that sounded kind of like fun.

Did those clients, the poor ones, deserve all the help?

And as the Grinch listened, she gave a small yelp.

For some reason their happiness got to her then

And made her start thinking of the women and men

Who needed this help. Who needed her skill.

Maybe, just maybe, this was goodwill?

Suddenly, the Grinch’s warped world view

Straightened out; it was no longer askew.

And her feet didn’t pinch as she picked up those files

And hauled them back down in messy old piles.

Then standing in front of her wondering staff

She grabbed a fat file and said, with a laugh,

“This case looks compelling, you can’t disagree

That I should handle this one for free.”

From that moment on, the Grinch was the one

Who oversaw all the pro bono fun.

Waiving her fee and working for free —

A pro bono lawyer permanently.