Public Interest Law Initiative

Encouraging Pro Bono Throughout the Firm: Highlights from the 2019 Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable

Posted on: February 14, 2019

On February 13th, representatives from Illinois law firms met at the offices of Baker McKenzie for PILI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable where they discussed ways to encourage pro bono volunteerism throughout their firms. Topics included harnessing momentum for pro bono, onboarding for pro bono, making the case for pro bono to partners, and exploring innovative pro bono models.

Harnessing Momentum for Pro Bono

Elizabeth Lewis of McDermott, Will & Emery led a discussion about ways to harness momentum for pro bono. Some suggestions included engaging associates in pro bono service in hopes that they will continue volunteering throughout their careers, as well as looking to partners and firm leadership to heavily encourage or even mandate pro bono from associates. The general consensus was it is important for pro bono leaders to offer several pro bono projects that fit within the interest and culture of their firm and to set clear expectations and a supportive infrastructure to ensure a positive experience for volunteers.

Onboarding for Pro Bono

Elise Tincher of Kirkland & Ellis led a discussion about onboarding for pro bono with both first-year associates and laterals. Participants discussed the struggle with onboarding laterals as they do not often come in a big group with a structured orientation process. One firm approaches this challenge by sending an email out to all new laterals with a video about the importance of pro bono at the firm and then follows up with an in-person meeting. Another firm sets up regular pro bono orientations for laterals to introduce them to the pro bono program. For first-year associates, most firms included pro bono as part of their orientation, while several firms encouraged their incoming associates to participate in PILI’s Graduate Fellowship Program and even bring a pro bono case with them when they start at the firm.

Making a Case for Pro Bono to Partners

Sarah Bernstein of Barack Ferrazzano led a discussion about making a case for pro bono to partners. It is important to be aware of the current firm attitudes and culture around pro bono and start to make incremental changes. Many attendees noted how clients were now asking about pro bono in their requests for proposals, which has had a significant impact on encouraging pro bono participation. Getting partners involved in pro bono cases or working on a joint pro bono project with clients can help encourage a culture of pro bono at the firm. Several firms give out pro bono awards to recognize volunteer efforts.

Exploring Innovative Pro Bono Models

Jonathan Baum of Katten Muchin Rosenman led a discussion about exploring innovative pro bono models, including a chance for attendees to share about their own innovative projects. Before launching any new project, it is important to consider the interest of pro bono volunteers and the capacity for the firm to take on new projects. Ask what the best use of resources is and partner with local legal agencies to assist with training and implementation. It can also be effective to make small, innovations to improve existing pro bono projects.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2019 Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable. We are planning our Illinois Forum on Pro Bono for the fall, which brings together law firm pro bono leaders as well as corporate, agency and law school pro bono leaders.

Learn more about the PILI’s Pro Bono Program »

Learn more about PILI’s Roundtables and Forums »

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