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Westmoreland County Bar Association wants to expand pool of pro bono attorneys

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

Private attorneys who belong to the Westmoreland County Bar Association could be required to donate more time to indigent clients.

The Westmoreland County Bar Association Foundation wants to expand a pro bono program to provide legal services to the needy. Pro bono, which means for the public good, refers to professional services provided for free or at a greatly reduced cost.

“This is the right thing to do,” said David Millstein, a Youngwood lawyer who was appointed last month to serve as the foundation's first executive director of pro bono services. “Part of being a lawyer is an obligation to offer services on a pro bono basis. It's the bone marrow of lawyering.”

The bar association has moved in recent years toward accentuating its pro bono services. The program occupies office space at the county courthouse in Greensburg and is staffed by two full-time employees.

Lawyers who volunteer their time handle landlord-tenant cases, custody and divorce issues, as well as other civil court filings. Criminal casework is not part of the program.

Clients receive either free legal representation or pay a reduced rate of about $40 per hour, based on their financial situation.

The bar's program was designed to augment services offered by Laurel Legal Services, which relies on private contributions and government funding to provide civil representation for low-income residents.

The agency, which has offices in Greensburg, provides services to clients in Armstrong, Cambria, Clarion, Indiana, Jefferson and Westmoreland counties.

Last year, about 70 lawyers participated in the bar association's pro bono program.

Millstein said he wants a stable of as many as 500 lawyers handling civil, bankruptcy and domestic cases for low-income residents.

“I think we can do a lot better,” Millstein said.

To that end, he has proposed a requirement that all bar association members handle a pro bono case.

That proposal could be considered by the bar association this week and might be met with some resistance, said association President John Greiner.

“I do pro bono work, and I believe it is important for members of our community to give back to those who are less fortunate. I think we would like to see it broadened,” Greiner said.

But lawyers may not be ready to make bar association membership contingent on volunteer work.

“I think some don't like to be told they have to do it. We're looking at ways to include some requirement,” Greiner said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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