August 24, 2001: Headlines: COS - India: Law: Business: Triangle Business Journals: RPCV Jim Verdonik says when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, our effort was based on the thought that "It's better to teach a person how to farm than to give a person a free meal."

Peace Corps Online: Directory: India: Peace Corps India: The Peace Corps in India: August 24, 2001: Headlines: COS - India: Law: Business: Triangle Business Journals: RPCV Jim Verdonik says when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, our effort was based on the thought that "It's better to teach a person how to farm than to give a person a free meal."

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-115-42.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.115.42) on Monday, May 31, 2004 - 1:11 pm: Edit Post

RPCV Jim Verdonik says when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, our effort was based on the thought that "It's better to teach a person how to farm than to give a person a free meal."

RPCV Jim Verdonik says when  I was a Peace Corps volunteer, our effort was based on the thought that It's better to teach a person how to farm than to give a person a free meal.

RPCV Jim Verdonik says when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, our effort was based on the thought that "It's better to teach a person how to farm than to give a person a free meal."

ABA not just to lawyer's pro bono work
Jim Verdonik

As a frequent contributor of articles to The Business Journal, I am often asked "How do you decide what to write about?"

Most of my articles come from questions my clients ask me. If one or more of my clients are asking a question, the odds are good that the issue is of general interest to the readers of The Business Journal.

Since I recently returned from vacation, however, I have not answered many client questions in the past few weeks, but an article in the July 20 edition of TBJ gave me the idea for this article.

The article's headline was "Local law firms fail pro bono test." The article then went on to indicate that only one of the local law firms achieved a goal of donating 3 percent of their time to doing free pro bono work.

That would be a disappointing record were it not based on a very narrow and perverted definition of pro bono work. It certainly helps explain the number of lawyer jokes and Shakespeare's line, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

There is, however, an old saying among lawyers: "I'll let you write the contract, if you let me write the definitions." This saying reflects the ability of the legal profession to redefine reality by agreeing to definitions that often change the normal meanings of words.

In the July 20 article, I think most readers would have assumed that pro bono meant all the free work that lawyers do for people and community organizations. That is a very wrong assumption.

In fact, the pro bono hours referred to in the article are only those hours that meet a very narrow definition put forth by the American Bar Association (ABA), which reflects the ABA's biased and narrow world view.

The ABA definition of pro bono actually excludes most of the work that lawyers do for free. Allow me to illustrate the narrowness of the ABA definition with the following example from my own legal practice.

Several months ago, I met with a local school teacher. She had developed a software program that assists both students and other teachers to learn how to use the Internet to do research. I admired the creativity and dedication of this teacher who had spent many hours going beyond the call of duty to improve our education system. As teachers are not among the most highly compensated members of our community, I offered to advise her for free about how to protect her ownership of this software program and to license it.

When I called my law firm's pro bono coordinator to get approval for this free work, the following exchange illustrates the meaninglessness of pro bono statistics.

Me: "I would like to represent this teacher pro bono, because she is doing really good work."

Coordinator: "How much money does she make?"

Me: "I don't know. I think that's her business, not mine."

Coordinator: "Does she have children?"

Me: "Does that matter?"

Coordinator: "Of course it matters. If her annual income is more than $14,000 and she has no children, then she doesn't qualify for pro bono work. If she has two children, however, she can qualify with up to $18,000 of income."

Me: "We don't pay our teachers very much, but thank God we pay them more than that."

Coordinator: "Well, then she doesn't qualify for pro bono."

Me: "But this is a good project our law firm should support."

Coordinator: "You can still work for her for free. I'm not stopping you. She is just not ABA pro bono.

Me: "XYZ__________, XYX___________, XYZ__________ Bureaucrat!"

Of course, I, along with other lawyers in my firm, am working on this project for free, even if our efforts don't meet the ABA definition. I think this is a good example of the things that many of the lawyers who practice technology law are doing to make our community a better place to live.

The ABA definition of pro bono is tailored to lawyers who stop a landlord from evicting a poor family from their home.

Technology lawyers who do venture capital deals, write patents and organize companies are just not well-suited for work that fits within the ABA's definition of pro bono. If we tried defending tenants, the unfortunate result would probably be more evictions.

The pro bono work of technology lawyers reflects a different philosophy. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, our effort was based on the thought that "It's better to teach a person how to farm than to give a person a free meal."

The donated time of many technology lawyers in the Triangle area reflects the "teaching to farm" philosophy of pro bono. Local technology lawyers donate thousands of hours of free time helping to build the local technology community. This economic development effort has resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs. The people who have these jobs thankfully don't need ABA pro bono work to keep from being evicted. They make enough money to pay their bills.

This article then is dedicated to the technology lawyers (many of whom are my competitors) who have helped build our local technology community . . . . Larry, Walter, Linda, Fred, Gerald, Don, Chris, Kent, Bob and all the others.

As the ABA does not recognize your work, I thought it appropriate to do so here.

Verdonik is a partner in the Technology Company Group of the Raleigh office of Kilpatrick Stockton LLP.


© 2001 American City Business Journals Inc.




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Story Source: Triangle Business Journals

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - India; Law; Business

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