Ensure Pro Bono Has a Place in Firm Policies
A written policy that makes it clear pro bono legal work by lawyers is both supported and expected is, as one firm said, “the bedrock of the firm’s pro bono practice.” Again, this is a matter that is largely driven by firm culture. Firms with fewer written policies may have fewer written policies on pro bono, while those that have more written policies tended to have more that addressed pro bono. The message we heard from the firms we interviewed was again fairly simple at its core: if a firm has a written policy concerning the level and kind of work its lawyers should do, specific provision should be made for pro bono work. Some examples of policies in place in the various firms with which we spoke include:
- Allowing pro bono hours to count towards billable minimums, with or without a “cap.”
- Allowing pro bono hours to count for purposes of bonuses.
- Including performance on pro bono cases in associate evaluations.
- Setting a minimum number of pro bono hours lawyers should perform each year.
- Including pro bono hours in monthly and other regular reports of attorney hours.
- Assessing compliance with the pro bono minimum in associate annual evaluations.
Overall, the goal of firms’ policies on pro bono is to send an unambiguous message that pro bono work matters to decision-makers at the firm, that it is treated the same as work for paying clients, and that doing pro bono work and doing it well is important to a lawyer’s career at the firm.