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Pro Bono Net

Lawyers serving the public good.

Pro Bono Management – Not Just a Job Any More

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

 A couple of years ago, a couple of enthusiastic young associates from a law firm came to me. “We have a great idea!” they said. “We want to help address the terrible fact that 80% of the litigants in family court are representing themselves. We’ll go to our friends in various firms, and start a new project. We’ll get lots of attorneys to take cases!” They were so excited – they wanted to help families in crisis, and kids at risk. I wanted so badly to hug them both and send them out to fulfill this passion of theirs.

I did hug them – but then I had to sit them down to have a deflating conversation. Did they know that most law firms refuse to allow associates to take pro bono family law matters? Had they studied family law, which is notoriously complex, and did they have a plan for training and mentoring? Who were they thinking would do the extensive intake and triage work it would take to identify cases appropriate for volunteers, not to mention spend the time reaching out to their friends to place each case? Had they thought through what types of cases, at what stage in the proceedings, they wanted to take, and what scope of representation they were going to provide? Could they articulate the “core competencies” volunteer attorneys could develop with these cases, in order to be able to make the business case for the project?

The good news is that, while these questions may have made these associates somewhat crestfallen, they are a sign of the strength of our community. Pro Bono has become professionalized. A corps of intelligent and thoughtful people has developed systems, research, experience and even official Pro Bono Standards (released by theABAin 1996 and now being updated). We know a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and have significant expertise in how to run an effective and efficient pro bono program.

 

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Neil Steinkamp

Rebecca Berlow, a corporate attorney, has worked as a volunteer with The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Unit Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") clinics and has assisted the Society with disaster relief efforts, greatly improving their Access to Benefits hotline by developing a new intake system. Learn more

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