The burden of pro bono falls most heavily on the solo and small firm practitioner.
In Georgia, 65% of the state’s lawyers are in Atlanta; only 35% of the state’s active lawyers practice in the remaining 154 counties where 72% of the state’s legal aid-eligible live.
We hear anecdotal stories from small town lawyers about their work. The stories don’t come from their firm marketing and development department or from the firm pro bono partner: these are big city, big firm assets. Rural lawyers don’t do PR.
The small town lawyer works alone or maybe with one or two other lawyers. Overhead is kept to a minimum. Pro bono is a daily issue, not one occasionally mentioned by the firm’s community service folks or pro bono committee. And unlike the case with big firm pro bono, the small town lawyer’s wallet sees an immediate hit.
Signature pro bono projects? Not in their vocabulary. Legal information and advice clinics? OK. Evictions? Well, no. Conflicts abound in a small town.
All politics is local. Pro bono falls under that “politics” banner.
Civility rules. Handshakes and reputations are the currency.
I recommend, too, reading “Practicing Law in a Small Town” at the Law Practice Matters blog.