Access to Justice Video

The following is information regarding a video program on the topic of pro bono that was developed by Northwestern Legal Services in Erie County. If you are interested in ordering a copy of the video, contact:
Vincent Brocki, Resource Developer
Northwestern Legal Services
1001 State Street, Suite 1200
Erie, PA 16501-1833
Phone: (814) 452-6949, ext. 110

The cost per videotape is $3.30 plus shipping.


Overview: The purpose of this discussion is to inform the general public about the importance of "pro bono" representation to the unmet civil legal needs of Pennsylvania's low-income community, with a special emphasis on the Legal Aid Volunteer Attorney (LAVA) program in Erie County.

I. Explaining the concept of "pro bono" -- (David Trevaskis)

  • "Pro Bono Publico" -- "for the public good"
  • History of legal profession - strong pro bono tradition
  • PA Rules of Professional Conduct - Rule 6.1 - a lawyer "should render public interest legal service"
  • Organized pro bono programs in about two-thirds of Pennsylvania's counties
  • Some lawyers provide pro bono legal aid outside of programs, or in counties where no organized programs exist
  • Tradition of pro bono in law firms

II. Follow-up: What type of service constitutes "pro bono" (David Trevaskis)

  • American Bar Association - emphasizes direct legal representation to low-income clients, groups or organizations: legal aid to persons of limited means; legal aid to secure/protect civil rights; and legal aid to non-profit groups who cannot afford legal counsel
  • Some include bar association work and/or membership on non-profit boards
  • Pro bono is not the result of a client who does not pay for work rendered

III. Importance of "pro bono" to justice system (Judge Kelly)

  • Civil legal matters touch "the fabric" of our lives - from family law, to housing, to education/employment, to government benefits.
  • Having legal counsel in civil matters is often essential to "getting justice"
  • In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that legal aid and pro bono assistance meet only about 20 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income residents of the Commonwealth.
  • Pro bono representation is an essential part of the legal system, and it needs to grow even stronger if we are to keep pace with needs of our citizens

IV. Follow -up (Judge Kelly) - Reflect on own experiences offering pro bono

  • Before becoming a judge - worked in private practice and took pro bono cases Erie County
  • Talk about the kinds of cases you worked on, and why it was important to you and the client

V. LAVA program in Erie County (David Baxter)

  • Erie County has about 70 percent participation from the local bar in pro bono
  • LAVA -- Joint program of Erie County Bar Association and Northwestern Legal Services
  • Overview of why/how the program got started
  • Program administration (NWLS central intake, LAVA Director, etc.)
  • Types of cases that are routinely referred to LAVA participants
  • Number of low-income clients who benefit from program
  • Approx. number of hours that local attorneys give to pro bono each year in Erie County (and estimated $ amount for these hours)
  • Review of client satisfaction surveys - how is the program functioning
  • LAVA received Louis J. Goffman Award this year from PBA and PBF

VI. LAVA attorneys in pro se clinics (Judge Kelly, David Baxter)

  • Pro se clinics - empowering clients to act on own behalf in certain types of child custody and divorce proceedings
  • Use of LAVA attorneys to facilitate these clinics
  • Feedback from judges and attorneys on these clinics

VII. Expanding pro bono in Pennsylvania (Judge Kelly, David Trevaskis, David Baxter)

  • One-third of counties in PA do not have an organized pro bono program, and 30 percent of attorneys in ECBA do not participate in the program
  • How do we increase participation: support from judiciary; classes in state law schools that underscore importance of pro bono as ethical responsibility of all attorneys; and work of county bar associations to develop pro bono