The Best Gift We Lawyers Can Give – Samuel W. Seymour

Samuel W. Seymour

President’s Column, December 2011

The tree is up at Rockefeller Center and the holiday markets fill our parks. It’s that time of year when we rush from work to office parties to celebrations with family and friends. Yet, while we enjoy the season, we should also heed the call to spread holiday cheer not just to those we love but also to those in need. During the holiday season, we are all presented with an abundance of ways to give back to our community: toy drives for children, food collections for the hungry, and clothing donations for the poor. All are wonderful ways to help those in need. But I also urge you to give more than money or goods; I encourage you to give of your skills. As lawyers, we are in a unique position to give back to our community in ways that are critical and out of reach for many.

The needs of our community are as diverse as our skills, and there are plenty of opportunities for litigators and transactional lawyers alike. For the former, there are deportation, housing, family court, and civil rights cases where unrepresented litigants need counsel. Likewise, there is a great need for non-litigators who can give pro bono assistance drafting wills, obtaining adjustments of immigration status, or applying for public benefits. Whatever legal skills you possess, many in our community cannot afford them, and this holiday season is the perfect time to share them.

Getting involved in pro bono work is easier than you think. The City Bar Justice Center provides legal assistance to over 20,000 low-income New Yorkers each year, and much of this assistance is provided through our members’ volunteer efforts. You can learn more about our projects and upcoming training programs at the Justice Center’s website: In addition to the Justice Center, our Monday Night Law program, conducted by our Committee on Legal Services for Persons of Moderate Means, provides free legal information every Monday night. To learn more, contact

Many other non-profit organizations gratefully accept the assistance of pro bono attorneys. Working with a non-profit could provide the opportunity to act as co-counsel on cases. Or it could allow you to provide direct legal services or to counsel the organization itself on various corporate matters. Our Public Service Network works to match lawyers looking to make a significant pro bono commitment with nonprofit volunteer opportunities. For more information, contact Melissa Stanger at You can find a guide to legal services organizations seeking volunteers at And our court system also uses volunteers in a variety of programs that service low and moderate-income litigants: More senior lawyers may be interested in their Attorney Emeritus program.

There is also, of course, a strong tradition among New York law firms—and increasingly within corporate law departments—of encouraging pro bono work. Seek out your pro bono coordinator and find out about the types of pro bono activities your firm or company organizes.

Pro bono work is not only needed but also personally rewarding, as this video of City Bar Justice Center volunteers shows: This holiday season, I encourage you to start doing legal work on a pro bono basis. And if you are already donating your time and skills, I urge you to get other lawyers involved. Let’s see if we can make the spirit of the holidays last throughout the year.