Legal Current: "It's humbling to be a part of life-changing work."

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By Carrie Brooker/Legal Current

As Thomson Reuters honors National Pro Bono Week, Legal Current catches up with Helen Respass, senior legal editor, Law Department Service, Practical Law. We discussed her role as co-chair of the Thomson Reuters Global Pro Bono Program, what sparked her passion for pro bono work, and how attorneys can give back. Below is a recap of the conversation.

Legal Current: What is the Thomson Reuters Global Pro Bono Program, and how is Thomson Reuters recognizing Pro Bono Week?

Respass: The Thomson Reuters Global Pro Bono Program encourages our employees with a legal background to use their skills and training, and take advantage of the generous volunteer time-off the company offers to engage in pro bono work. Our goal is to create an environment where employees find it easier to do pro bono work, and feel supported in their efforts to serve the communities in which they live and work. The program is made possible by our Regional Pro Bono Committees – employees who volunteer their time to connect with nonprofit partners, organize pro bono opportunities, and recruit volunteers – and our executive sponsor Thomas Kim, chief legal officer and company secretary.

LC: What types of pro bono work are you currently involved with?

Respass: One upcoming project that I’m looking forward to is the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s (AALDEF) Exit Poll and Poll Monitoring Program. I’ve volunteered for about 20 years, acting as either a monitor to document voter problems, or conducting a nonpartisan multilingual exit poll. I’m often stationed in Chinatown, N.Y., where I can use my language skills. It’s so important that Asian American communities have their voices heard and that we document issues of significance to Asian American voters.

LC: What’s the one thing you want everyone to know about legal pro bono work?

Respass: Legal pro bono work makes an incredible difference. According to the Legal Services Corporation’s 2022 Justice Gap Study, low-income Americans do not get any or enough legal help for 92% of their substantial civil legal problems. The legal system is extremely complex and difficult to navigate. For those unable to afford an attorney, access to the court system and the justice it can provide are limited.

Many studies show how critical legal representation is to the success of a case. The American Bar Association found that when unaccompanied children are unrepresented at removal hearings, only 15% of the cases win legal relief. But if they have an attorney, over 73% can remain in this country.

You may not be able to litigate a large case or represent an asylum seeker through years of immigration proceedings, but you may have the time to volunteer in a clinic, serve at a legal aid desk, review a contract, or draft a policy. Your pro bono service can help bridge the access-to-justice gap!