ATLANTA – Every March, as sports fans watch basketball games and try to guess which teams will complete the winning brackets, attorneys in Atlanta gear up for continuing legal education. The Atlanta Bar Association sponsors Pro Bono March Madness (PBMM) where attorneys are trained and recruited to participate in a variety of pro bono legal activities.
The Atlanta Bar Association began offering PBMM in 2006 to help connect attorneys and legal staff to programs sponsored by nonprofit organizations that are in need of legal volunteers. PBMM started with 8 programs and 232 attendees. Seven years later, there were 16 programs and 559 attendees. The March Madness Athletic Association (MMAA) granted use of the trademark "March Madness."
New this year, Georgia State University College of Law and the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) co-sponsored a session at PBMM entitled "Here’s an IDEA: Education Advocacy for Children with Special Needs." Over 30 attorneys attended.
"We were so pleased that HeLP was part of Pro Bono March Madness in 2012," observed Mary Lynne McInnis, the Atlanta Bar Association’s CLE director. "One of our goals is to bring new pro bono legal services organizations into the PBMM family – to widen our support of the pro bono legal community, to offer more variety of pro bono opportunities for Atlanta lawyers, and thus to reach out to even more people in Atlanta who are in need of pro bono legal services. HeLP’s participation this year ‘helped’ us meet our goals."
Emily Suski, Clinical Supervising Attorney for the HeLP Clinic at GSU, presented the session. "The session provided potential pro bono attorneys with the nuts and bolts of special education law," she said. "Participants were given the tools to take on special education cases, including a reference guide on federal and state special education laws and template forms and letters."
HeLP has teamed up with the State Bar of Georgia’s Young Lawyers Division Advocates for Students with Disabilities Committee. "Any attorney who participated in the Pro Bono March Madness session offered by HeLP is eligible to sign up for the Education Advocacy for Children with Special Needs Project," explained Laurice Rutledge, a GSU law graduate and co-chair of the committee. "The project will pair new volunteer attorneys with a mentor who has special education law experience. The attorneys will be assigned cases referred by HeLP."
Pro bono attorneys have already begun to take cases. "We are grateful to the Atlanta Bar Association and HeLP for offering the session at PBMM. Our committee members were asking for more opportunities to serve the community, but many of them did not feel they had the needed training to take special education cases," said Rutledge. "The project provides a mechanism for us to connect interested attorneys who have now had specific training in this area to families who need help addressing their children’s special education legal issues."
"It’s a slam dunk," she added.
For more information on the Atlanta Bar Association’s pro bono and continuing legal education opportunities, visit their website at http://atlantabar.org.