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New Energy Provides Opportunities and Challenges for Law Firm Pro Bono Programs

Website - 2017 Law Firm Roundtable 3

Law firms, like much of the rest of the country, have seen a recent spike in activism. Law firm pro bono leaders recently gathered at PILI’s annual Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable to discuss harnessing this newfound pro bono energy while minding a line between pro bono volunteerism and political activism. They also discussed engaging law firm partners in pro bono programs.

Harnessing newfound energy and excitement in pro bono work and legal advocacy

Law firm pro bono programs have seen a recent surge in volunteerism in their offices. Attendees discussed working with attorneys to pinpoint their motivations for volunteering and then channeling their energy into existing pro bono cases and projects. If someone is motivated by a particular issue or is looking for a specific volunteer experience, pro bono leaders can work with them to find a worthwhile case or project that is beneficial to the volunteer, the firm and the pro bono clients. Participants also discussed ways to introduce attorneys to pro bono work, such as setting up one-time volunteer experiences such as legal advice clinics.

Drawing the line between pro bono legal work and politics

Law firms are also being approached with requests for more pro bono help on projects that could be considered political in nature. At the Roundtable, attendees reviewed three questions to ask when taking on a new pro bono project: First, does the matter meet the definition of pro bono? Second, are there any business reasons for not taking on the matter? Third, is the matter truly political? By using these questions, law firms can determine whether a pro bono endeavor is right for their firm and attorney volunteers.

Engaging law firm partners in pro bono work

For a variety of reasons, pro bono participation among partners at law firms tends to be lower, and this can have a detrimental impact on the culture of service within a firm. Roundtable attendees discussed leveraging client relationships to increase pro bono participation among partners. Many corporate clients are now asking about a firm’s pro bono participation in their requests for proposals, and this can be used to motivate partners. Attendees also suggested collaborating with corporate legal departments on pro bono opportunities, since partners might also be interested in volunteering with their clients on a project.

Jonathan Baum of Katten Muchin Rosenman, Sarah Bernstein of Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg and Elizabeth Lewis of McDermott Will & Emery led the discussions.

Attendees received 1.5 hours of MCLE Professional Responsibility credit for attending this program.

View the materials distributed at this program »

Learn more about PILI’s Pro Bono Roundtable Series »

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