Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Dayton Bar Association Inn of Court "Celebrate Pro Bono"
Oct. 23, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Oct. 23, 2018, at Sinclair Community College.)

Good Evening.

Thank you Terry for that introduction.

Terry was a clerk in my chambers for two years, from 2005 to 2007.

He was a valued voice in our discussions of cases and in the drafting of the resulting opinions

I’m also grateful that he asked that I speak before you today.

Thank you to the Dayton Bar Association Inn of Court for the invitation.

I know Dayton has a very vibrant pro bono community.

You are doing great work and I’m happy to shed a spotlight on your successes.

I’d like to recognize the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project.

You host clinics where volunteers assist individuals in the preparation of pro se pleadings and provide information about navigating the court process.

Although many law firms in the Dayton-area could be credited with stepping up, I wanted to focus on just a few examples.

Wilmer Hale attorneys host clinics for sealing criminal records for the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project.

An attorney from Thompson Hine provides counsel and advice in landlord/tenant matters.

Attorneys from Sebaly Shillito and Dyer lend their considerable talents to juvenile court custody, support and visitation matters.

 Each year, hundreds of individuals seek advice at your clinics and volunteers help to guide them in the direction that will hopefully improve their circumstances.

While I want to recognize the work these three law firms do, I understand that, overall, the biggest part of volunteerism here in Dayton comes from the smaller law firms in town.

Some have two to five attorneys in the office.

Others work as sole practitioners.

You should be very proud of the work that you do and your devotion to help others.

When it comes to doing pro bono work in the state of Ohio, there is a mixed bag of news to report.

First, the good news.

A recent study by the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation shows the number of pro bono hours provided by the attorneys has increased by 15 percent.

If you are one of those attorneys, I applaud you.

 The satisfaction that you receive from helping others is a great motivator but it’s also nice to be thanked for the work too.

Pro bono assistance helps not only the individual but the family and the community.

Fifteen per cent is a great leap forward. Congratulations

However, we do have more work to do.

What is odd about the report is that while 3543 attorneys volunteered… that is 18 percent fewer attorneys than volunteered in 2017.

Despite the decrease in attorneys reporting, the amount of money attorneys are donating to help legal aid services has increased.

Individual contributions from attorneys who reported are up 41 percent.

What does the study show us?

It shows 87,222 hours of donated service

The average donation of hours is 24.5 hours per participant

Over $631,000 of total financial contributions for pro bono efforts with the average donation of $547.00.

Pro bono attorneys hours translates to 13 million one hundred thousand dollars

I’m encouraged…with an 18 percent decline in participants there was a 15 percent increase in hours

By far the property law and landlord tenant took the lead in practice areas with 16 percent; wills and trusts at 10 percent while tax, senior/elder, veterans each came in at 6 percent ... immigration represented 2 percent.

Firms over 25 lawyers provided 44 percent of the hours but get this the next highest practitioners were solo practitioners 19 percent ... government, corporate, and firms with 11-25 made up the rest of the hours.

75 percent were fulltime practitioners; 16 percent part-time and 6 percent were retirees ...

As you can see, numbers don’t lie ... Ohio attorneys who provide pro bono are generous and affecting lives each and every day.

All this has referred to only 8 percent of the bar who are reporting…imagine the impact if that doubled then that doubled and doubled again ...

The landscape of legal services provided to those eligible would completely change.

Let’s think how we can incentivize more attorneys to provide pro bono services.

I know word of mouth about the need, the reward of helping others and the duty to fulfill the admonition…”to whom much is given, much is expected” is a strong motivator.

Like with so much, the challenge is to get that message out to the 92 percent who are not involved in pro bono services.

If you’ve got any ideas that you’d like to share about how to swell the ranks of pro bono attorneys, please share them with me.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to focus on Ohioans in need and how we can better deploy resources to meet that need.

I look forward to learning more about your innovative ideas to increase pro bono services in Dayton ‒ and throughout the state.