Join Us To Celebrate . . .
By Harry H. Schneider, Jr.
More than 125 Years Promoting Justice, Protecting the Needy, Achieving Diversity
On March 19, many of us will gather at the Seattle Westin Hotel for the King County Bar Foundation's 13th annual Breakfast With Champions to renew our support of the Foundation's dual mission of providing pro bono legal services to those most in need in our community and promoting diversity among our bench and bar.
The Breakfast is an occasion for today's generation of Seattle-King County lawyers to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to the good work of those who preceded us - those who first identified a genuine need for Seattle and King County lawyers to be in the vanguard of promoting justice, ensuring access to legal representation regardless of means and ensuring that our profession reflects the larger community in which we live and work.
Please join us on March 19.
The Largest Gathering of Lawyers and Judges in Washington
With more than 1,000 lawyers in attendance, the Breakfast once again will be the single largest gathering of lawyers and judges in Washington, a testament to the fact that we regard our bar as much more than a social organization among professionals and instead recognize it as a group of determined individuals who are intent on accomplishing tangible good for real people.
In so doing, we are stewards of an effort that has been under way for more than 125 years, since the founding of the King County Bar Association.
Noble Origins of the King County Bar Association
The predecessor organization of what became the King County Bar Association was formed in the mid-1880s by leading attorneys in Seattle who were offended when a group of brethren lawyers actively participated in a vigilante effort to force Chinese immigrants out of the city. Tensions spiraled out of control in February 1886 when hundreds of Chinese workers were rounded up by outlaw groups of citizens and forcibly marched to a ship docked in Elliott Bay waiting to take them away.
Acting pro bono, a handful of well-intentioned Seattle lawyers, including the U.S. attorney, intervened to liberate the detained Chinese men and obtained a writ of habeas corpus requiring their release. Yet the detainees remained on the dock. Shots were fired, fighting erupted and several men suffered wounds, one dying of his injuries. Ultimately, both the governor of Washington and President Grover Cleveland imposed martial law to restore order.
Appalled that some of the anti-Chinese agitators and vigilante leaders were fellow attorneys, the majority of Seattle lawyers organized themselves into a formal bar association and took steps to censure or punish those lawyers who had been involved in the riots and efforts to expel the Chinese workers. By a vote of 37 to 1, charges of unprofessional conduct and demands for suspension from the practice of law were initiated against those responsible, the lone dissent cast by one of those whose conduct was at issue.
The first resolution passed by the group focused on the profession's need to always respect the Rule of Law rather than bow to mob mentality and to ensure that inclusion always triumphed over ethnic persecution.
The Foundation's Mission Today
Over the past 125 years, the King County Bar Association has been true to the principles on which it was founded. In 1939, the Association inaugurated direct funding of legal aid. As the fundraising arm of the KCBA, the King County Bar Foundation currently supports an impressive array of legal aid programs and projects devoted to making sure the most unfortunate in our community have access to legal representation. Today the Foundation sponsors no less than six legal aid programs operating out of more than 40 separate offices in King County.
Last year more than 1,300 legal professionals provided their talent and their time to provide pro bono services in support of these programs and projects. Working on more than 10,000 different cases or matters, these volunteers contributed in excess of 41,000 hours of legal work - an effort generating an estimated $7.8 million worth of legal services.
Importantly, this effort was accomplished on a modest budget of funding from the Foundation and the Association, due entirely to the pro bono efforts of volunteer attorneys practicing in King County. For every $100 contributed to the Foundation, our volunteer attorneys provided $865 of legal services.
The Foundation supports diversity in the profession by granting scholarships each year to admitted students at both Seattle University School of Law and the University of Washington School of Law. Last year, the Foundation awarded grants totaling $125,000 to 58 students of color and other underrepresented segments of our community. Since inception of the scholarship program, the Foundation has awarded close to $2 million to more than 600 recipients.
As impressive as the Foundation's accomplishments are, there is more to be done. Funding for legal aid has declined to historically low levels.
Just a few years ago, IOLTA generated $9 million in annual statewide funding, but it now generates less than 20% of that amount due to lower interest rates during the economic recession. But the need for legal aid grows while the funding shrinks.
Almost 90% of low-income families in King County will encounter a legal problem during the next year that merits representation, but 90% of those families will have to proceed without a lawyer because, when it comes to legal aid, demand far exceeds supply.
On the diversity front, the number of enrolled minority law students today has declined as the cost of tuition has risen.
How You Can Help: Contribute $800 of Pro Bono Services with Every $100 Gift
Virtually every lawyer I know supports the idea of pro bono publico, providing legal representation without remuneration to those who cannot afford a lawyer. The concept is in our spirit, it's in our DNA, it's even in our Rules of Professional Conduct.
Far fewer of us, however, are willing or able to provide meaningful pro bono services year in and year out, whether it be because of competing demands on our time or the perceived lack of appropriate pro bono opportunities in our chosen field of expertise. This, however, is a problem we can easily solve.
To those of you who have contributed pro bono services this past year, thank you.
To those of you who have done less pro bono work this past year than you would like, we have a solution. Join us on March 19 at the Breakfast With Champions (registration information appears on page 32). Bring your checkbook or your credit card and make a gift to the Foundation with the knowledge and confidence that every dollar you give will generate pro bono services in King County worth eight times your donation. A gift of $500, for instance, will provide $4,000 of legal representation to those in King County who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
And to those of you who cannot attend the Breakfast, I also say "join us." Between now and March 19, either mail a check to the Foundation or call the King County Bar Foundation at 206-267-7100 and make a pledge or a donation. Or send me an email at email@example.com the moment you finish reading this column, and I personally will send you a pledge form and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Either way, please join us.
Harry H. Schneider, Jr., president of the King County Bar Foundation, is a partner with Perkins Coie.