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The Role of the Government Attorney
This course examines the role of the government attorney. It will explore the boundaries of the obligations and responsibilities of lawyers who work for one or another governmental law office and how that public service role may differ from that of a private attorney. The ethical, moral and political constraints on these public service lawyers will be examined. The focus will be on lawyers in the Offices of the Corporation Counsel, the Attorney General and the District Attorney. In addition to readings there will be simulation exercises. Grades will be based on a take-home final, class participation and performance on simulations. This course is intended for students thinking about about working in one of htese offices.

Government lawyers, like all lawyers, are encouraged to participate in pro bono legal services; but unlike most lawyers, they face a number of challenges to pro bono participation. For example, government lawyers’ conflict of interest restrictions are generally stricter; they may face severe limitations on the use of office resources such as supplies, administrative support and even the telephone for pro bono work; and they may be prohibited by statute from providing any legal work outside of their agency. While these challenges may initially seem daunting, they are not insurmountable. Most pro bono programs offer a variety of opportunities designed to accommodate the particular needs of their volunteers. Pro bono programs can be found through local or state bar associations; and through the ABACenter for Pro Bono’s directory of pro bono programs, in a limited number of locations, at www.probono.net. After locating a likely pro bono possibility, a lawyer should contact the program to determine whether it offers volunteer opportunities that meet the lawyer’s interests and needs. Careful investigation of a pro bono program and a little determination will open the way to satisfying pro bono participation. The following is a list of questions to ask pro bono program staff to assist in choosing an appropriate opportunity.

Does the program thoroughly screen clients, and does it have a conflicts of interest policy?
It is essential that a pro bono program undertake a comprehensive screening of clients before referring a case to a volunteer lawyer. Thorough screening will provide a complete statement of the facts and an assessment of the nature of the legal issues involved, enabling a volunteer to ascertain whether a particular case would result in a conflict of interest. The program should have a comprehensive policy and procedures for identifying and addressing conflicts of interests. Careful screening of cases also allows the program to make suitable referrals based on a volunteer’s knowledge and skills, experience, and substantive area of interest. A thorough screening process ensures an optimal match between lawyer and client.

Is the pro bono program familiar with your agency’s pro bono policy?
Before contacting a pro bono program, check with your agency to determine whether it has a pro bono policy or guidelines (see sidebar p. 4). When contacting a pro bono program, ask the program staff if they are familiar with your agency’s policy; if not, provide a copy of the policy and discuss it with program staff members to be sure they understand the parameters in which you are permitted to volunteer. Be sure that you are comfortable with their understanding of the policy.

Does the program offer opportunities that fit your schedule?
Are you able to attend court hearings during office hours, or do you require a weekend or evening opportunity? Some government agencies permit lawyers to use time during the workday (using leave or flexible hours) for pro bono work, but other agencies may not. After determining the policy in your agency, ask whether the program provides volunteer opportunities to fit your available time. The program should offer long-term opportunities, such as representing a client in a court case, and shorter-term options, such as evening clinics and after-office-hours community education programs. Awell-developed pro bono program should be able to find an opportunity that fits your needs.

Does the program offer training?
It is crucial that a program offer substantive training because many government lawyers will be volunteering in an area other than that in which they practice on a daily basis. Training should include classes covering the relevant legal issues and pertinent reference materials. Volunteers should have access to a library of additional resource materials, as well as assistance from program staff or other volunteers to answer questions, clarify issues, and offer general help.

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