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O.C. Attorneys to Volunteer Free Legal Services to Poor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to shed the “L.A. Law” image of well-heeled lawyers driving fancy sports cars, the Orange County Bar Assn. Wednesday formally inaugurated a new program that encourages attorneys to provide free legal services to the poor.

Association President Andrew J. Guilford said 26 of the county’s largest law firms already have signed up, with a total of 775 lawyers pledging to each donate 35 hours a year to the poor.

He estimated that the donations will total at least $5 million in billable hours.

Although lawyers in other areas of the state have organized pro bono programs, Guilford said donated services by Orange County lawyers have not kept pace with the county’s increasing poverty rate.

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“There’s been a perception that Orange County does not have the same kind of indigent problems that other counties have had,” he said. “To some extent, that’s true. But I think in recent years, there’s been a growing recognition of the indigent problem in Orange County, and therefore, attorneys are increasingly inclined to respond to it.”

Margaret M. Morrow, former president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., said at a luncheon Wednesday, “Let’s face it. For years, we have given lip service to the notion of pro bono work.”

Law firms may be discouraged from taking indigent clients during an economic recession that is forcing them to cut costs, Morrow said.

“But it is precisely at a time like this that we need pro bono,” as people lose their jobs and homes, and need assistance in getting state and federal assistance.

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Former U.S. District Judge Layn R. Phillips of Oklahoma, who recently joined an Orange County law firm, said judges will remember lawyers who represent clients who cannot pay.

“Judges will know if a firm is one that has to be pulled, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century to fulfill its legal obligation to the public, or if instead it is carrying out the noblesse oblige tradition to the practice of law,” he said.


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