Public Interest Law Initiative

Strategies for Engaging Volunteers: Takeaways from the 2018 Legal Service Agency Roundtable

Posted on: March 12, 2018

2018 LSART

On February 28th, 30 representatives from Illinois public interest law agencies met at Perkins Coie for PILI’s annual Legal Service Agency Roundtable where they discussed strategies to engage law students, recent graduates and attorney volunteers in agency work. Topics included looking at last year’s ABA Pro Bono Survey data, incorporating limited scope representation opportunities and drawing on feedback from PILI Interns, Fellows and Supervisors.

Pro Bono Survey

Samira Nazem of the Chicago Bar Foundation reviewed key takeaways for legal service agencies from the 2017 Pro Bono Survey. She noted that two-thirds of pro bono was being done by attorneys at solo or small firms and the group discussed ways to engage and support this attorney demographic.

Also in the survey, attorneys reported a better pro bono experience when they took cases through a public interest law agency, even saying they were more likely to take a pro bono case outside their practice area with the support of an agency. Volunteer supervisors can help to ensure a positive experience by providing ample training and resources to volunteers.

Limited Scope Representation

Marisa Wiesman of Prairie State legal Services then discussed limited scope representation as an opportunity for pro bono volunteers. While limited scope is a great tool for attorneys to help clients on a short-term, pro bono basis, it does come with its own set of challenges.

When presenting limited scope opportunities to volunteers, it’s important to educate them about the parameters of the pro bono matter and the actual impact on clients. While many volunteers like limited scope opportunities, this approach does not provide a one-size-fits-all pro bono solution. Limited scope opportunities should be crafted strategically to ensure that the time and effort invested by the agency, client and volunteer provides the most benefit for the client.

Feedback from PILI Interns, Fellows, and Supervisors

Susan DeCostanza, a PILI Intern Alum and current supervisor at CVLS led a discussion about feedback from recent Interns, Fellows and Supervisors. One major takeaway was that Interns and Fellows want feedback from their supervisors. Supervisors should look for opportunities to conduct both formal and informal evaluations for Interns and Fellows and utilize self-evaluations as well.

Near the end of the placement, agency supervisors should discuss ways to involve Interns and Fellows in the agency going forward. Potential areas for involvement would include further volunteer opportunities, a Young Professionals Board, or invitations to future events. If agencies can maintain relationships with their Interns and Fellows, they might secure lifelong volunteers and supporters.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Legal Service Agency Roundtable. We will plan our Illinois Forum on Pro Bono for later this year, which will include discussions with this group as well as firm, corporate and law school pro bono partners.

Learn more about the Pro Bono Initiative »

Learn more about PILI’s Roundtables and Forums »

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