Lawyers have an ethical responsibility to provide pro bono services to indigent or other deserving clients. Rule 16-601 says that a lawyer should aspire to at least 50 pro bono publico (“for the public good”) legal services per year. “For the public good” means undertaking professional work voluntarily and without payment.
Recently in Albuquerque, the guardianship and conservatorship community was rocked with the news that the two owners of Ayudando Guardians, Inc. had been indicted on 28 charges involving embezzlement of client funds. Ayudando was a company providing professional guardianship and conservatorship services to disabled adults. The company managed millions of dollars belonging to their clients. Most of the money appears to be gone. The U.S. Marshals Service assumed control of the company and closed it.
Upon this news, judges in Bernalillo County notified lawyers, who practice in the guardianship area, that hundreds of Ayudando clients needed immediate attention. The judges asked for lawyers to volunteer to serve as petitioning attorneys and Guardians ad litem to secure the appointment of successor guardians and conservators. Within 24 hours, almost every lawyer in the guardianship community volunteered to assist.
Our firm jumped in feet first, accepting 31 cases at the request of the Court and an additional 15 cases from the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC), a state agency that provides public guardians to indigent individuals. These cases were in addition to at least 20 other cases our firm assisted DDPC with to ease their extended wait list for services for adults with developmental disabilities and their families.
Guardianship lawyers have taken a beating in the press recently. We are portrayed as greedy and uncaring, only in it for the money. The response to the Ayudando crisis belies that criticism. The willingness to serve the public good was overwhelming. The volunteer lawyers, judges, court staff, guardians, conservators and numerous others who acted immediately to make sure that former Ayudando clients were safe and protected deserve a pat on the back.
It’s the New Year—go find a way to serve the public good.