Get the Right Pro Bono Cases for Your Lawyers
Successful pro bono programs are tailored to the needs and interests of the lawyers in the particular firm. At least three different, but complementary, ways to achieve this goal emerged from our conversations with firms.
- Develop relationships with legal services providers.
Several firms have developed relationships with area legal services providers, and get most of their pro bono cases from these providers. This allows the firms to build up in-house expertise on the kinds of cases typically handled by the legal services provider, making it easier to place cases and find partners to supervise matters. The legal services providers, in turn, often reach out to these firms first when there is a large or particularly attractive case needing pro bono counsel.
- Identify and meet law firm practice needs.
Firms with full-time pro bono counsel indicated that they seek to identify needs and interests among lawyers within the firm, and then find pro bono opportunities that meet those needs. Several firms felt strongly that the key reason they were able to involve many different lawyers in pro bono work was because they had pro bono matters that appealed to many different kinds of lawyers. For example, several firms reported that their associates both needed and wanted hands-on courtroom experience. They responded by identifying pro bono opportunities that would reliably provide this kind of experience. Similarly, one firm reported that it has developed a range of non-litigation pro bono opportunities in order to provide lawyers with no interest or experience in litigation the chance to do pro bono work. Examples of such opportunities include non-profit incorporation and community development matters. One pro bono counsel has had success in recruiting lawyers with a transactional/mergers and acquisition focus to handle adoptions. He explained that once he re-cast the legal work involved in adoptions as “the transfer of an asset (the child) from one entity (foster services) to another (the adoptive parent)” it seemed more familiar, and more attractive, to transactional lawyers. The key seems to be flexibility and creativity in finding pro bono opportunities and matching them with existing interests and needs.
- Use technology to aid in placing cases.
One of the most time-consuming parts of managing a pro bono program can be learning of lawyers’ interests and then matching available lawyers with available opportunities. Several firms rely on an intranet system to help with this process, posting opportunities on a pro bono page that is directly linked to the screen that first comes up when a lawyer logs on to a computer. Another firm keeps a database with lawyers’ interests, so the pro bono coordinator can easily contact a small group of interested lawyers when specific pro bono matters arise. Most of the firms with which we spoke use e-mail to communicate available opportunities.