Keep Pro Bono Visible by Articulating and Demonstrating Expectations
All of the firms we spoke with take significant steps to keep pro bono a visible, meaningful part of a lawyer’s life at the firm. We learned that there are some common steps taken that successfully send the message to lawyers at the firm that pro bono legal work is part of the firm’s practice.
- Partners are visibly and deeply engaged in pro bono.
Firms with the most successful pro bono programs reported that their partners—from the most senior through the most junior—are actively and visibly engaged in pro bono matters. Nothing sends a stronger message about the viability of a firm’s pro bono program than having its partners handling, supervising, and talking about pro bono legal work.
- Pro bono is part of the new associate and lateral hires’ orientation.
There was broad consensus that when new lawyers’ introduction to the firm includes discussion of the firm’s pro bono program, articulation of pro bono expectations, and direct contact with the person who can help them get pro bono cases, it significantly increases participation in pro bono. Some firms therefore include pro bono as part of a broader orientation meeting. Other firms have the pro bono counsel meet individually with new associates and lateral hires shortly after they start at the firm.
- Pro bono is on the agenda of regular firm meetings.
A number of the firms we spoke with indicated that whenever there are regular firm-wide meetings, the pro bono program is on the agenda. Treating pro bono as an integrated part of the firm’s practice, rather than an adjunct or extracurricular activity, was seen as an important step in making pro bono a meaningful part of lawyers’ careers at the firm.
- Pro bono cases are included in reports about firm accomplishments.
A number of the firms we spoke with had newsletters that highlight aspects of the firm’s pro bono programs. Some firms distribute these materials in hard copy, and find them to be attractive for marketing to clients and presenting the firm to potential recruits; others use a firm-specific intranet, or web site to publicize accomplishments. Firms tended to use the same kind of platform used by the firm to advertise or publicize its other work.
Several of the firms we spoke with took additional steps to ensure that lawyers were aware of the firm’s pro bono program. One firm includes an element in associate evaluations addressing whether the associate met the minimum number of hours of pro bono legal work set out in the firm policy. Associates that have not met this target are asked to meet with the firm’s pro bono counsel to develop a plan to meet it in the coming year. Another firm has an annual orientation on pro bono for new attorneys—attendance is also required for any lawyer who has not met the pro bono target that year. Another firm expects its new lawyers to take on at least one case beginning six months after arriving at the firm.