Monday, December 11, 2006

Chinese pro bono lawyer gives hope to clients

Here is the timely and compelling story of Chen Bulie, a brave Chinese lawyer in the forefront of pro bono efforts in China:

Watching the lawyer Chen Bulei argue his case, it was easy to forget that he was almost certain to lose. Pacing confidently before a packed courtroom in the northeastern Chinese city of Haicheng earlier this year, he scored rhetorical points so deftly that sympathetic onlookers pumped their fists like fans at a sporting event. Chen's client, a 56-year-old talc miner named Zhao Jitian, was on trial for "assembling a mob to disrupt social order"—a politically charged criminal offense often invoked to silence Chinese citizens who band together to air grievances against their employers or the government. Police in Haicheng had arrested Zhao five months earlier after he took part in a demonstration with about 100 other laid-off employees of the Aihai Talc Company to demand benefits they claim the firm had illegally withheld for nearly eight years. It is exceedingly rare for defendants charged with political crimes in China to escape conviction. But with Chen in his corner, brandishing a pocket-sized copy of China's criminal code as he punched hole after hole in the prosecution's charges, it seemed Zhao just might walk out of the courtroom a free man.

We are so fortunate to have our civil liberties, including the right to assemble, that we often take them for granted. Maybe through the pro bono service of lawyers like Chen Bulie we can be reminded of the sacred value of liberty and our own civil rights. Thank a pro bono lawyer if you see one today.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An absolutely amazing bar association: Broome County, NY

I remember reading about the floods, but I don't remember reading anything about these superhero lawyers. This story is definitely worth reading. Hats off to the Broome County Bar Association. Their selfless pro bono service is inspirational.

Sindy Garey's telephone at the Broome County Bar Association keeps ringing -- five months after floodwaters wrecked local homes and businesses and left people's lives in financial tangles that call for a lawyer's advice.

Flood victims continue to seek free legal advice offered by Broome's bar, although the calls have slowed to about eight to 10 a week on issues ranging from bankruptcy to flood insurance to FEMA appeals, said Garey, executive director of the bar. That's down from a peak of about 40 calls a day for five or six weeks after floodwaters hit June 27.

Garey does legal triage, lining up flood victims with attorneys who are knowledgeable about their particular legal plights. She has a panel of about 70 volunteer attorneys to choose from, all members of Broome's bar, who've made time in their own legal careers to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by floodwaters. In the aftermath of June's flooding, the Broome bar offered victims a 30-minute free legal consultation. The volunteer lawyers, said Kathryn Grant Madigan, president-elect of New York's 70,000-member bar association, went above and beyond the call of pro bono work. New York's bar is the nation's largest voluntary association of lawyers.

Madigan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was so impressed by how it all worked, it will use New York as a template for other states facing a natural disaster to help them set up systems to provide legal help for victims. "We have an absolutely amazing bar association," said Madigan, a Vestal attorney who coordinated the state and local effort. "They stepped up with no hesitation at all."