Letter from the President
Originally published in the printed bar journal, Communiqué (August 2016).
And Justice For All—A Tribute to Melanie Leigh Kushnir
We lost a great friend, colleague and advocate when Melanie Kushnir, Pro Bono Project Director at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, passed away in May.
Melanie was a CCBA member and a regular contributor to the Communiqué‘s Pro Bono Corner. She was passionate about her work, dedicated to it, and remarkably good at it. There are over 700,000 members of our community who qualify for legal aid and we, the attorneys of the Nevada bar, are the vehicles through which they can access and navigate the legal system. Melanie firmly believed that every person is entitled to access to justice, and that with our help, each of those 700,000 people would get the legal assistance they deserve. And that’s why she encouraged us all to “take a case”.
As cliché as it sounds, most of us pursued legal careers because we wanted to help people – and help them in a way that requires unique and specialized skills, years of education (and continuing education), an arduous licensing process, and a commitment to conduct ourselves in an ethical and professional manner. Because after all, being a lawyer means people are trusting us to shoulder their problems, help them find answers, and make their voices heard. So when we finally raised our rights hands and took that oath, we understood that admission to the bar is indeed a privilege.
Lest we forget that with that privilege comes responsibility. Responsibility to serve our community – including the disabled veterans, the abused and neglected children, the exploited seniors, and the many others who have nowhere else to turn. Responsibility to utilize those years of education and training, and those unique and specialized skills, to make the justice system work for everyone.
If you need additional incentive, consider that perhaps the greatest benefit of pro bono work is how it makes you feel. It feels good to give people hope in the most desperate of times, to put your legal talents to use in a way that makes a difference in our community, and to show that there is more to our profession than negative public perceptions and bad lawyer jokes. That’s why once you take your first case, you will find yourself wanting to do more. And then you will find yourself wanting your partners, associates, law firms and legal departments to do more.
So in Melanie’s honor, and on behalf of the thousands of Southern Nevadans she worked so hard to help, I encourage you to contact Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and take a case (and if you’ve already taken one, take another). You can find a case by looking on the Pro Bono Project’s website at http://www.lacsnprobono.org/available-cases/. If you are unfamiliar with an area of law, take a case – Legal Aid Center will train you. If you don’t have malpractice coverage, take a case – Legal Aid Center will provide it. If your Nevada license is inactive, take a case – you can apply for certification under the Nevada Supreme Court’s Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Program. If you need an opportunity that requires a more modest time commitment, don’t take a case – instead, volunteer for the Ask-A-Lawyer program. The life you enrich might just be your own.