News

Unveiling the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center

June 18, 2015

Pro Bono Center Executive Director Monika Kalra Varma speaks at the 2015 Presidents' Reception.As a result of an in-depth strategic planning effort, the D.C. Bar has announced a new name for its highly expansive pro bono activities: the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. The new name, which was approved on June 9 and announced during the Bar’s yearend celebration on June 16, was selected to more fully capture the breadth and depth of the Center’s impact.

“The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center touches the lives of 20,000 individuals each year, but we know this is only a fraction of the population in need of legal assistance,” said Brigida Benitez, immediate past president of the D.C. Bar. “The name change provides a clearer understanding of the wide array of vital legal services and activities offered—from the Advice and Referral Clinics to the Landlord Tenant Resource Center to the Advocacy & Justice Clinic—enhancing the Pro Bono Center’s work to narrow the justice gap.”

The name change came after a comprehensive study by a 19-member Strategic Assessment Task Force guided by Benitez and chaired by Jim Sandman, former chair of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee and president of the Legal Services Corporation.

During the assessment, the task force used surveys, in-person and phone interviews, and focus groups to reach out to the Pro Bono Center’s stakeholders, including clients, past and present members of the Pro Bono and Community Economic Development committees, staff at the D.C. Superior Court, volunteer attorneys in varied types of practices, and legal services providers. The outreach efforts identified the Center’s strengths and opportunities for growth, and, combined with an analysis of the current environment and potential trends, provided the foundation for a strategic plan.

Stakeholders found the Pro Bono Center’s strengths to include a high capacity to fill the critical, unmet needs of thousands of individuals seeking access to justice and a wide range of volunteer opportunities across all sectors of the legal profession. However, a key survey finding has shown that people were confused about the relationship between the D.C. Bar and Pro Bono Center. About 60 percent of respondents did not realize that the Pro Bono Center is an independent, nonprofit legal services organization whose operations are not funded by D.C. Bar member dues. In addition, the focus groups and interviews overwhelmingly indicated that many were not aware of the Center’s overall services and resources, including its legal services for community-based nonprofits and small businesses.

“It became clear during the Strategic Assessment Task Force’s outreach that very few people understand the scope of the enterprise,” Sandman said. “It is a small change, but one that reflects the exciting growth and direction of the organization. The name ‘Pro Bono Center’ better captures the extraordinary breadth and depth of legal services offered to low-income individuals, community-based nonprofits, and small businesses.”

The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center is the largest provider of pro bono legal services in the District of Columbia through its placement of pro bono cases and its provision of assistance to unrepresented litigants. In 2014 the Pro Bono Center served more than 20,000 individuals, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses.