In an effort to do something, I’ve continued to try to find something to do in the realm of pro-bono work, which led me to a free CLE which was handing out a bunch of credits and lunch. Who could say no to that? I will grant you that showing up to many of these ‘bunch of free CLE credits’ put on by non-profits generally comes with the caveat that you agree to signup for at least one pro-bono case. Considering I wanted some sort of case, this seemed like a win-win.
The CLE was held at United Way. I’ve heard some relatively negative things about United Way regarding their use of the charitable funds, generally related to massive administrative overhead. United Way apparently isn’t itself a charity exactly, it is a clearinghouse for charities and UW is the middleman who takes a cut of the funds for themselves, and then gives the rest to the connected charities. I’ve also heard weird things about how UW makes businesses sign non-competitive contracts such that your business can only do fund raising for UW and no other charity if you choose to go with UW. (odd that a charity would want to squeeze out other charities). Anyway this is all leading up to this next point…
I show up for the CLE at United Way. The UW complex was massive. It was effectively a mid-sized convention center complete with its own multistory parking garage. It was slick and high tech and expensive. I looked around and thought, ‘Huh… charity apparently pays very very well.’ I looked up at the electronic scheduling board (think airline arrival wall of monitors) and found that we were in one of the farther auditoriums. The CLE was really badly advertised and I only happened to notice it in an email newsletter about a week before the actual date. Coupled with the bad advertising was a complete lack of a syllabus or schedule even on the organization’s own website. So I was walking in a little blind as to what I was going to be sitting through.
The organization putting on this CLE was titularly a shelter org against domestic violence. But they only spoke relatively briefly, probably 2 short presentations on their organization and they wanted to have people signup on their list to possibly be called by the court to take a pro-bono appointment for a particular type of case. The lions share of the CLE was split by none other than both of the organizations outlined in my Legal Aid$ posting. Yes, the one who had refused to bother training, and the one who provided no support.
The Legal Aid (LA) attorney gave their presentation before lunch and then proceeded to try to assign cases to people. Now, the problem with this, is we didn’t show up to take on the cases from LA. No, we showed up for a Domestic Violence CLE and already had our names down to do pro-bono work for them. And the LA attorney acted as if we had to take these cases. She kept reading off the case synopses until she got the the end of the list and when no one else volunteered, she started over with the first case. And she continued harassing everyone and yelling out the synopses during the lunch break. Now don’t forget, the moment you took a case from her… no longer her problem and you would get no help. She told me so, in so many words. Apparently, other people in the room had also been burnt by her charms as she only foisted off a half dozen cases on the unwary. The second group after lunch was the immigration organization who provided no translators, or insurance, or anything else. They had the decency to mention they had need for people, but didn’t beat the dead horse. They did however beat us into submission with one of the more boring lectures I’ve heard at a CLE in a long while (and I had just come back from my AARP convention, so that was quite a feat.)
On a racial tone… I was the only white person there, other than some of the presenters and assistants to the presenters. What bothered me was the general implications of this imbalance. A great many less pleasant concepts percolated right below the surface, about who ran these organizations, about who they primarily used to do free work and potentially for whom, about the likely income disparity of the attorneys in the room and those curiously absent. Food for thought.
I signed up to do some work with the Domestic Violence org which will start later in the year. I avoided the other ones like the plague. I think I am going to skip the too-good-to-be-true CLEs for awhile now. I think I have fully explored the pro-bono options in my current city at this point.