President's Page: We Don't Talk About Pro Bono

We Don't Talk About Pro Bono Text
By: Landon Ascheman
2022-23 HCBA President

Ok, we do actually talk about pro bono. We talk about it a lot. But the popular song isn’t “We Talk About Bruno,” so I had to use some artistic license. The thing is, we do talk about pro bono, a lot, but we often find it hard to do pro bono. And this can be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, we are trying to make ends meet ourselves. Maybe we are swamped at work and just trying to stay afloat, or we find it difficult to do pro bono because of the type of work we do.

No matter our situation, there are areas and places we can volunteer, but we don’t always think of them.

When I first started practicing after graduation, my law partner and I went straight into hanging our own shingle. We were brand new and had absolutely no experience running a business or advertising. We put up the website and spread the word in person and on social media, but we didn’t really know what we were doing (in more senses than one). However, one of the things that started to work was volunteering.

Free Work Pays the Bills

In some senses, it seems odd to try and pay the bills by doing free work. But done in the right situation and with the appropriate boundaries, this is a great way to develop your skills in actual practice, connect with some fantastic mentors, and get your name out there. We found that when we started volunteering on different cases, the organization we volunteered with would occasionally have people in need of services that were looking for representation but didn’t qualify for their services because of their financial income. 

Since that point in time, I’ve come to realize that we all advertise in our own way. Some firms will put up billboards, record commercials, or host events. But we can also advertise our services with our time instead of our money. I like to think that the biggest advertisement of my services is the work I put in on committees, clinics, boards, and CLEs. I often find that I refer clients to those attorneys that I’ve worked with in those same settings. I know those people; I see the quality of their work; and I want my clients to benefit from that work ethic.

If you’re looking ways to get involved, you should feel free to start at your own pace. Some people want to jump right in, take a few cases and clients and really get into the program as quick as they can. But for most of us, it can be a little intimidating to start out in an unfamiliar area of law. Most organizations are expecting that and can get you the training and mentorship to feel comfortable.

If you’re looking for a place to volunteer, you may want to try places like Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), or even local law schools like the Mitchell Hamline Self-Help Clinic. VLN’s Housing Program is in dire need of more volunteers right now. Currently the courts are holding a lot of eviction hearings.1

Starting October 3, Hennepin County increased its ability to hear eviction cases from 90 a week to 150 a week.  Ramsey County is starting to have mass calendars of 200 cases on Fridays in November, and Anoka County is likely adding capacity to hear more eviction cases each week, too. VLN and their legal aid partners in each of these counties have taken pride in being able to provide legal services to every party that qualifies. 

In order to meet that increasing demand, they need volunteers. They’ve got capacity to train and supervise more volunteers, and they have training materials and clinic shift sign-ups online. More information at the link:

Other Ways to Pro Bono

While some areas of practice put restrictions on the ability to represent clients or volunteer through traditional means, that doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer and accrue pro bono hours. Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 6.1(b) recognizes that not everyone can provide legal services directly to people or organizations in need at no cost. In fact, subdivision 3 states: “participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession.”

In other words, raising your hand to serve on groups like the local District Ethics Committee (always in need of members); the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (yearly openings); the Minnesota Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the Rules of Public Access to Records of the Judicial Branch (I’m not sure how often there are openings, but we could probably shorten the name). Those are just a few in a long list of boards and committees that help to improve our legal system. You could also join the MSBA Mock Trial team and help High School students learn more about the law.

Our gifts as lawyers may not be "fantastical and magical," but they're just as important and in need. 

Please contact 612-752-6647 for more information about VLN; or 651-894-6903 for more information about SMRLs; or go to

Headshot of man in suitLandon Ascheman

Landon Ascheman is the president of the Hennepin County Bar Association. He is a solo practitioner with Ascheman Law focusing primarily on criminal law. 
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