I’ve got a couple of minutes before I have to get to a scheduling conference. As I wolf down my Yoplait Lite, I’m paging through this month’s ABA Journal. I come across an article on how diminishing funds are forcing cut backs of court programs and free legal services. This makes me sad, but I offer a small solution.

We need more lawyers who are willing to provide pro bono legal services. Period. The need is great, especially now. Attorneys are needed to represent parties in foreclosure proceedings, work outs, bankruptcies, domestic cases, tax cases, guardianship proceedings. We need more experienced attorneys. We need less experienced attorneys. We need retired attorneys.

And there are plenty of reasons for doing it. I’m just going to tell you about one, because for me it’s the best.

Five or six years ago I was representing a defendant in a multi-party case pending in a circuit court in Maryland. Somehow or other, a hearing notice came into my office and was mis-calendared. It shouldn’t have happened, blah blah blah, but in my fourteen years of practice it’s the only time it’s ever happened.

Anyway, on the morning of the conference, which I didn’t know about since it had been entered on my calendar for the same date in the following year, I received a call from Judge So and So’s chambers, wanting to know where I was. I was horrified and apologetic. Luckily the courthouse was two minutes from my office. I ran. I arrived sweaty and out of breath in Judge So and So’s courtroom.

At which time Judge So and So launched into a tirade the likes of which I hope never to witness again. This judge berated me. This judge berated my poor secretary. This judge berated my mother for bringing me into the world. Meanwhile, my colleagues stood by, embarrassed (for me), and waited for it to be over. It went on for a good five minutes.

Then, when this judge was finished with me, this judge concluded the business of the case, which was minor and could have been conducted in my absence, frankly. I was instructed, again in open court, to take a seat and wait for the conclusion of the other matters before the court,so that the court could have another go at me.

So I sat. As I sat I took out a legal pad. On my legal pad I started making of list of the pro bono cases I have handled over the course of my career, what they were about, how they were resolved.

When the last case was done I was called into chambers for another go round. I took my pad with me. It was brutal. I kept my eyes on the pad.

And when I left the courtroom I took it with me too. I took it back to my office. I placed it in a drawer. When I left that firm the pad came with me. It’s here, in my desk drawer, now.

It’s not very often that a lawyer gets to confront a judge about his or her inappropriate behavior. Few situations rise to the level of a complaint to the Judicial Disabilities Commission, but let’s face it: the members of the bar know that certain judges, on certain days, or every day, are going to be difficult. I personally believe that the behavior of the judge in my case was horrible. I hope that no one in the courtroom that day was an unrepresented lay person. I hope that no one walked away from that morning believing that this is how our judiciary works. But this judge – and others like this judge – will go on behaving in this fashion and there’s very little we can do about it.

But I have my list. On my legal pad. In my desk. And I know that on that morning, as I stood with dignity and respect before a judge who was not treating me with dignity or respect, that I was a better person, and a better professional. That’s why I do pro bono work, or one reason,anyway. And if you need one, it can be yours too.