April 20, 2014

Pro Bono

Are Florida Attorneys Paying Less Attention to Poor?

Non-billable pro bono hours are falling.

Art Levy | 5/1/2008
Attorney Sylvia H. Walbolt
The Florida Supreme Court awarded its 2008 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award to attorney Sylvia H. Walbolt. [Photo: Tristan Harper]

Shortly after becoming an attorney 44 years ago, Sylvia H. Walbolt went to work at Carlton Fields in Tampa for William Reece Smith, a legendary Florida lawyer. Smith, a senior member of the firm, also held leadership positions at the Florida Bar and the American Bar Association. What Walbolt noticed most about Smith was his commitment to providing free legal work to clients who couldn’t afford to pay him. She decided to follow his example.

Now a shareholder at the firm, Walbolt has litigated hundreds of high-profile, big-money cases during her many years on the job, but she says some of her proudest moments stem from her pro bono work. “In one case, we represented the widow of a migrant farmworker,” she says. “He was killed in a fire in his trailer, one of those slum trailers where half a dozen workers live in enough space for one. He left a widow and two young children. We were able to negotiate a settlement for this family, which felt as good as if I’d just won a multibillion-dollar appeal.”

» What is Pro Bono?
Pro bono, short for pro bono
publico, is Latin, meaning “for the good of the public.” The Florida
Supreme Court has recommended that attorneys donate at least 20 hours a year to people who can’t
afford a lawyer. For attorneys who can’t or won’t work pro bono, the court recommends they donate
$350 to legal service organizations that represent the indigent.
Walbolt makes a special point of championing pro bono work when she meets with young attorneys. During a gathering at the University of Florida Levin College of Law earlier this year, she told law students that they would “miss out on the very best part of the practice of law” if they did not do pro bono work after becoming lawyers.

Tags: Politics & Law, Business Services, Government/Politics & Law

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