As part of Muskrat News's never-ending commitment to fill column inches, we decided to investigate (i.e., fabricate) recent reports of trouble in the pro-bono placement program.  Weve been hearing rumors of less-than fulfilling placements, demands on time that are inconsistent with the purpose of the pro-bono program and other problems.  Mark Hooper, 1L, had a typical story: "When I signed up, I said I was interested in working on labor or immigrant's rights issues, and they said they had a great opportunity that combined the two.   As you know, this State is home to many agricultural workers from outside the U.S., so they suggested I talk to Jorge Mendoza at the People?s Pickle Packers Union.  I realize my Spanish isn't that good, and I had a little trouble with his Paraguayan accent, but even so it should have been clear that I was there to help on legal-related issues.  But all Mendoza did was hand me a bag and put me at the end of row.  He kept saying 'ten bags, you go home.'  When I tried to leave, his goons beat me up."
After several attempts to interview Cynthia Sprocket, pro-bono coordinator, we finally got past the 'there is no such program' line and 'I don't have to answer anything that isn't attached to a subpoena.'  After first making clear that she denied Hooper, Mendoza, or the Pickle packers even existed, she said that  "Hypothetically, Mr. Hooper got off easy.  Note that Mr. Hooper was allowed to leave before he finished his quota, which is pretty lenient if you know Mr. Mendoza.  Second, again hypothetically, the majority of our student placements have much more positive outcomes, with beatings, threats, and sexual aggrandizement much rarer than last year.  In retrospect, we should have checked on whether the local Domestic Violence Training Center was pro- or con- before we sent those female volunteers down there.  Hypothetically.  I said that, right?"
But others still have their concerns.  One volunteer, who asked not to be named (Keith Habermeyer, 1L), complained that the Habitat for Humanity position he had been placed at was not at all what he expected.  \"We all know Habitat builds houses with volunteer labor, but I thought I was going to be working in the administrative offices, or at least on homes for poor people.  Instead, I spent the semester painting Professor Hilbert's house."
Nell Pearson, 1L, also had qualms.  "I was excited about working for the Children at Risk Program.  I know that runaways are a big problem, and that many wind up being taken advantage of.  So when I heard about the program to staff the bus and train stations with volunteers who could recognize at-risk teens, especially women, and help them talk to a counselor, I was eager to start.  But now I'm having doubts that what we?re doing is really helping.  I recently saw one of my first clients walking the streets.  I had thought that Dandy Don and his string of peer counselors could help her turn her life around, but something must have gone wrong.  You wouldn't think that a youth counselor smart enough to drive a gold-plated Caddy would let someone get away, but there she was, strung out and working."
Not all are dissatisfied with their experiences, though.  Fred Boychick, 2L, believes his pro-bono work significantly improved his career prospects.  "Like a lot of 2Ls, I didn?t have a lot of real-world experience to talk about when interview season rolled around.  Thanks to my pro-bono placement with the Old North Town Neighborhood Chemical Distribution Association, not only was I able to show an understanding of commercial and criminal law that my peers just didn't have, but I learned valuable interpersonal skills -- some knife-related, some gun -- that will serve me well during interview season and beyond.  Which I'll probably need to explain the dealing arrest."  He also thinks it will help him after he begins his career.  "When you've seen the range of contract-related behavior I have, you have a much stronger feeling for things like 'breach of contract' and 'remedies' than someone who's just learned them out of a book.  You don't need an outline to remember the need to dress for success when failure to do so has forced you to burn a perfectly good shirt just to get rid of some stubborn stains."
Hendry Callikson, also a 2L, agrees.  "I never would have gotten to see alternative dispute resolution in action if I hadn't volunteered for the Local  Central Prison Inmate Assistance Program.  These men have been dehumanized by society, yet they have managed to establish a working system of dispute resolution within the cell block that doesn't require the intervention of prison authorities.  When you see men who are supposed to be mindless criminals talking calmly and rationally how many cartons of cigarettes they'd trade me for, it gave me a new understanding of the resources that hypothetically disenfranchised people have.  I just wish Big Bob would write once in a while."
As with so much of life, then, it would seem that engaging in a Pro-bono project can be a mixed bag.  Sprocket, however, says it all depends on what people put into it.  "Sure, we had a 1L last year who was briefly jailed for obstruction of justice, but that's what happens when you don't take your assignments seriously.  If they had put in the effort to falsify the client's medical records as well as they could have, nobody would have been the wiser.  Hypothetically.  If people do what they're told, keep their mouths shut, and stop whining that 'this will get me disbarred if they find out,' everything will be fine.'  When Muskrat News suggested that perhaps the program could focus on more traditional placements such as legal aid offices, victim's assistance, prosecutor's offices and the ACLU, Sprocket was dismissive.  "Hypothetically, those candy-asses don't pay the finders fees that keep this place running, if it were running, hypothetically."