One of the primary goals of the SAILS Project is to institutionalize senior lawyer pro bono projects within participating law firms, to ensure that participating law firms have in place a structure and culture that encourages and supports senior lawyers (lawyers who are nearing retirement, who are phasing out of active practice, or who have already retired) to undertake substantial pro bono projects as a next stage of their careers.
While each firm will establish a paradigm that is appropriate to its unique firm culture and policy framework for pro bono and retirement issues, the goal is for each firm to reduce barriers and create incentives for senior lawyers to consider a “pro bono path” as they transition from full-time billable work.
By necessity, firms that have a mandatory retirement age, or a formal phase–down period or no retirement policies at all will take very different approaches to structuring a senior lawyer project. Firms may focus on partners who are still engaged in some commercial practice, and/or on fully–retired partners for whom pro bono work will be their primary or exclusive involvement with the firm. Firms also may differ in their approach to pro bono work and the extent to which the firm makes commitments to undertake signature pro bono projects or prefers to offer an array of opportunities to their lawyers.
We strongly encourage firms to adopt written policies that set forth their approach to senior lawyer pro bono efforts. To create a sustainable senior lawyer project, firm policies will need to address several elements: management support, compensation, use of law firm resources, and communication. To provide guidance to participating law firms, the SAILS Project has developed the following document that sets forth sample policy language. The language below is not meant to be adopted as a whole. In several sections, we have included alternative approaches based on different firm models. We anticipate that firms will choose among the approaches included below and tailor them as needed or craft different approaches. We expect this to be a dynamic document and hope firms will share the policies they adopt with us so we can add additional examples to this list.
SAMPLE LAW FIRM POLICIES
[Firm] considers pro bono work to be a core firm value and is committed to active participation by all attorneys in pro bono work.
In furtherance of this commitment, the Firm has joined the SAILS (Senior Attorneys Initiative for Legal Services) Project, a joint initiative of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program, the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, and other founding law firm partners. In doing so the Firm has agreed to institutionalize a senior lawyer pro bono program.
- Alternative 1: The Firm considers the pro bono work of senior attorneys to be of value to the firm and therefore compensable (for those attorneys still receiving compensation from the firm) in a similar manner as service on committees, professional development activities, the training and supervision of junior attorneys, and other non–commercial work that benefits the Firm.
- Alternative 2: The Firm will treat all time spent by senior lawyers on SAILS projects or other approved senior lawyer pro bono projects as billable, to the extent that senior lawyers at the Firm have billable hour targets or requirements.
- Alternative 3: No senior or retired lawyer will have retirement payments withheld or otherwise be financially penalized solely for participating in a SAILS project or other approved senior lawyer pro bono project.
The Firm will provide administrative and other resources necessary to support such pro bono work.
The Firm will provide office space and legal malpractice insurance, and will cover reasonable out-of-pocket expenses necessary to support such pro bono work.
The Firm will make associates and other appropriate personnel available to support such pro bono work.
The Firm will consider SAILS projects or other approved senior lawyer pro bono projects to be projects of the Firm and not dependent on the commitment of one or a small group of lawyers. In instances where the project was approved as a Firm–sponsored project, the Firm will continue to provide staffing and support where appropriate even after the initiating senior lawyer terminates involvement with the project.
Communications about the opportunity to participate in SAILS or other approved senior lawyer pro bono projects will be integrated into the Firm’s programs and policies applying to partners who are transitioning into retirement or who are already retired.
[For Firms without a structured retirement process] The Firm’s Pro Bono Committee, or its designee, will discuss with each of the Firm’s senior lawyers on a regular basis their interest in pro bono subjects and/or projects. [For firms with Pro Bono Counsel or Coordinators] The Firm’s Pro Bono Counsel/Coordinator will serve as a clearinghouse to facilitate the identification and initiation of appropriate pro bono matters for senior lawyers.
[For Firms with a structured phase–down process] Discussion of SAILS/senior lawyer pro bono activities will be included in the options discussed with attorneys entering the phase–down period.
The Chair of the Pro Bono Committee will report to firm management on at least an annual basis regarding the participation by the Firm’s senior lawyers in pro bono work, as well as any recommendations to modify Firm practices and policies to encourage active participation by senior lawyers in pro bono activities.