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New service looks to connect St. Louis-area attorneys with pro-bono cases

Illustration by Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Pro Bono Matters portal, shown in a screenshot from Dec. 20, helps attorneys wanting to take on civil pro bono litigation find cases from local legal aid organizations. The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis developed and manages the site.

Lawyers in the St. Louis area have a new centralized place to look for opportunities to do pro bono work in civil cases.

The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis launched Pro Bono Matters in the fall. Two legal aid agencies, as well as the association, post cases to the online portal. Current ones include help with guardianship and alleged discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing and employment.

Other agencies will be able to post cases at a later date.

Pro Bono Matters was the brainchild of John Simon, a past president of the association. He also funded the portal’s launch.

“We wanted to develop a platform that would really be able to showcase the different types of cases and organizations that offer these opportunities, so that volunteer lawyers can get involved in a way that really connects with them and is meaningful to them,” said Jim Guest, the director of the volunteer lawyers program at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. It’s one of the two agencies that can currently post cases on the portal.

Legal aid agencies already do really good work with their in-house legal teams, Guest said, but the caseloads are always too large to handle.

“When we can effectively involve the private bar to manage some of these cases and to work with some of these clients, it's a win all the way around,” he said.

Agencies like Guest’s and the St. Francis Catholic Legal Assistance Mission already work with pro bono attorneys on a regular basis. But Amy Hirsch Diemer, the mission’s director of legal services, said the current referral process requires a lot of extra work from the agency.

Right now, she said, when her agency gets a case it can’t handle, she or others have to scramble to find an outside attorney who might be able to take the case.

“This meets the pro bono attorney where they are when they want it,” she said. “The intent is to help facilitate easy access at a time when a pro bono attorney is ready to take a case.”

The St. Louis bar association’s assistant executive director, Danny Barnett-Foster, said lawyers right now are mostly interested in learning how the portal works.

“Lawyers can have a tendency to not want to experiment or try something new before somebody else did,” he said.

Barnett-Foster, Guest and Diemer have been doing educational outreach for the portal. Such outreach, Barnett-Foster said, has led to more attorneys participating in other places that have a similar website.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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