Pro Bono in a Crisis: Highlights from the 2020 Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable

On September 15th, law firm pro bono leaders met remotely for the Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable. This year, the group discussed the impact of pro bono in a crisis.

Exploring PILI’s Illinois Free Legal Answers Program

To start out, Jessica Schneider, PILI’s Managing Attorney, talked about Illinois Free Legal Answers. She explained how this had been a good pro bono opportunity during the pandemic and how firms and corporations were hosting virtual clinics to answer questions. Sara Ghadiri from Chapman and Cutler and Michael Whalen from Paul Hastings shared how their firms have volunteered with Illinois Free Legal Answers.

Responding to Today’s and Preparing for the Next Crisis

David Sudzus of Faegre Drinker talked with the group about pro bono during a crisis. He discussed how there were fears around pro bono and job security. He offered that flexibility around pro bono could help combat some of the fears and that it is a good idea to have strong alliances with legal aid agencies already in place to lean on during a crisis. He also emphasized the need for self care, and the group discussed how to approach pro bono and build strong programs to withstand crises.

Balancing the Desire for Systemic Change with the Everyday Needs of Legal Aid Clients

Rachel Jennings of Neal Gerber discussed how pro bono professionals within law firms are often driving systemic change within the firm since they are leading the charge in pro bono. The group discussed how the initiatives that pro bono leaders care about are typically are the ones that the firms take on. Attendees agreed that their partners in legal aid were leading the charge for systemic change but the best way for law firms to make an impact may be to support them from beside and behind. Attendees also discussed the importance to strategically plan for your pro bono program, just as you would plan strategically firm-wide.

Overcoming Challenges of Remote Pro Bono Service

Shehnaz Mensuri of Mayer Brown explained the obstacles pro bono leaders had faced by moving to virtual programs. The group discussed how trainings have shifted as well as pro bono opportunities. Attendees discussed how they had been able to replicate clinics and other pro bono projects in the virtual space. The group discussed how there had been some surprising positive outcomes from this and how some projects might do well with a hybrid virtual and in-person model going forward.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable. We look forward to seeing everyone at our Illinois Forum on Pro Bono on November 18th, which will bring together pro bono leaders from law firms, corporations, agencies and law schools.

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Posted in 2020 Roundtables.