As long as there have been lawyers, there have been pro bono publico services provided. The early efforts were undertaken by individual attorneys.

A more formal pro bono "movement" began in earnest in the early 1980s. The federally funded Legal Services Corporation, which provides significant funding to civil legal aid programs across the country including Legal Aid of Western Michigan, began requiring its grant recipients to devote 12.5% of their grant to set up programs to involve the private bar in the delivery of civil legal services to eligible clients. Since the number of private attorneys greatly exceeds their legal aid counterparts, it made sense to tap into their generosity to expand the impact and reach of services. LAWM began recruiting attorneys and firms to donate their time by taking actual case referals from LAWM.

West Michigan attorneys and firms have responded overwhelmingly. Since 1984, the private bar in West Michigan has donated over 117,000 hours of time, valued at $21 million through the LAWM Pro Bono Program. During the past decade private attorneys in our service area have donated nearly $100,000 per month in free legal services to individuals and families who would otherwise have likely been unrepresented.

Although we have an amazing and strong Pro Bono Program at LAWM, we are always seeking additional volunteers. If you would like to be part of this important effort, please contact our Pro Bono Program Coordinator, Paul Abrahamsen.
"In giving this matter a great deal of thought I did land on my answer to why I have almost continuously had at least one active pro bono file in my file cabinet. I suspect it may be an unusual answer. On July 16, 1981 one of my heroes, Harry Chapin, died in a car accident. I had seen him 8 times in concert and had all his albums (back when we had albums). Harry was dedicated to fighting poverty- particularly hunger. Wikipedia says, “[h]e is credited with being the most politically and socially active American performer of the 1970s. In 1987, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work.” He was one of the highest paid performers of his time but when he died he had already donated much of his money. He was asked why he donated about a third of his wealth to fight hunger especially since hunger is such a massive problem. He said that when you worked hard for a cause you believed in, you went to bed tired at the end of the day, it was a good kind of tired. You knew you had fought the good fight with good people and you were on the right team. That is why I am proud to be a pro bono lawyer."
- Attorney Randy Velzen
"Over my career I’ve been proud to handle Pro Bono cases. The law and its procedures can be complicated even for the seasoned attorney. What are my rights in this case? What forms do I need to file and when are they due? Where is the courtroom located? These and many other questions can be challenging to someone without an attorney. I’ve always favored the underdog and believe in a fair legal fight. This can’t happen unless the client has the assistance of counsel. Every person, no matter their status in life, should have the opportunity to have their position fairly heard in a legal dispute. That’s what Pro Bono attorneys do. “Equal Justice Under Law” is more than an inscription on the Supreme Court building. Pro Bono attorneys make sure that vision becomes real. To paraphrase Yertle the Turtle, “the folks at the bottom have rights too.”
-Attorney Rob L. Lalley, Jr.
Our Kalamazoo office offers a monthly service provider training series entitled Donuts & The Law. These trainings offer legal information on a variety of topics, often that correspond to the theme of our newsletters.
Our next training, focusing on expungements, will be held on Friday, May 11, 10am-12pm.
If you would like more information, please email us!

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