A Gateway to Pro Bono for Solo, Small and Medium Sized Law Firm Attorneys: Pro Bono Practitioners "Outside Big Law"

This page is designed as a collection of useful resources, advice and helpful links for attorneys who work outside of "Big Law" with an interest in pro bono.

The site is part of an ongoing initiative, and a collaborative effort of the New York City Bar Association's Pro Bono Outside Big Law Subcommittee of the Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services and Pro Bono Net.


  1. Pro Bono Resources: Spotlight on Barriers & Strategies
  2. Program Materials - I Don't Have a Pro Bono Co-ordinator, How Can I Do Pro Bono?
  3. Outside Big Law Volunteer Spotlight - Noam Biale
  4. Frequently Asked Questions (e.g. malpractice insurance, conflicts, CLE credit)
  5. About this Initiative

What does "Outside Big Law" mean?  This term is intended to include small and medium sized law firm practitioners, solo practitioners and other attorneys who may have not the benefit of a full-time pro bono coordinator, but are interested in pro bono.

Feedback is welcome!  We are interested in hearing your feedback about how we can help improve this site. Additionally, expressions of interest in getting involved in this initiative are most welcome and can be made here.


  1. NY Volunteer Opportunities List for Attorneys Outside Big Law (*NYC Pro Bono Center members only (free))
  2. Pro Bono Opportunities Guide and the NY Training Calendar
  3. Outside Big Law Volunteer Spotlight - John Ogden
  4. About the NYC Bar Association Pro Bono & Legal Services Committee

A Spotlight on Barriers & Strategies:  Identifying Helpful Resources to Get Started 

The following spotlights key resources, based on our experience with actual and perceived barriers to engaging in pro bono that attorneys "Outside Big Law".  

Identifying the Right Pro Bono Opportunity

Identifying and accessing appropriate pro bono opportunities can be a first obstacle for any interested volunteer.  Helping attorneys find pro bono opportunities is the goal of Pro Bono Net's Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.  This is an online interactive guide, which you can use to search across filters like area of law, client community served, to find listings about pro bono opportunities available in New York, as well as nationally.  You can now search Pro Bono Net's Pro Bono Opportunities Guide by the search filter, "small and medium law firm attorneys"

Each listing includes information about the organization, the type of opportunity, volunteer contact information, as well as other helpful information such as whether training is provided & whether malpractice insurance is offered.  The results from this NYC Bar Association's search include the opportunities in the NY Opportunities list, an outreach effort conducted by Pro Bono Net and the Subcommittee on Pro Bono Outside Big Law.  These organizations have specifically indicated an interest and capacity to work with lawyers from small and medium-sized law firms, and ongoing outreach is currently underway!

TIP! If you're not sure what you're interested in just yet, browse through volunteer profiles, to get a sense of the types of pro bono opportunities out there, or read our interview with John Ogden, a small firm practitioner, and co-chair of the Outside Big Law Subcommittee.

Finding the TIME:  Limited Scope Opportunities and Pro Bono Outside Business Hours

Time is often one of the most precious resources of any legal organization, large or small.  Put simply, small firms often have less aggregate time available for pro bono.

Possible Solutions:
Pro bono legal services range from full-representation to “limited scope” or short-term "unbundled" services, such as brief advice or specific discrete tasks.  Clinic-like programs have a defined and limited time commitment – for example, Monday Night Law, profiled here, requires a once monthly commitment, after normal work hours.  Also, the New York State Access to Justice program has an array of volunteer opportunities available to interested attorneys, including both within and outside business hours. You can access its volunteer manual here

A small law firm practitioner with extensive pro bono experience suggests this approach:  First, identify a specific need you would like to address: e.g. immigration, asylum, housing, domestic violence, consumer credit and foreclosures, etc.   Next, find a legal service provider that can work directly with attorneys who work as solo practitioners, at small firms, or in a company with no pro bono coordinator to help with case placement and management, training and mentoring, and other key elements of pro bono practice. Be realistic about how much time you can devote. Do not over-commit! Larger legal entities can provide back-up but this is one aspect of smaller practice which must be carefully managed so you can truly be of service.  

Finally, if you are entering a new substantive area of the law make sure the pro bono service provider can work with you to provide adequate training and mentoring. For example, after several decades of practice I had never dealt with consumer issues. Before I worked in the Consumer Debt Clinic, the NY Civil Court provided in-depth training and I was fully confident in the assistance I rendered.  Another ideal outlet for small law pro bono is the New York City Bar’s Monday Night Law program which deals with a panoply of issues after providing practitioners with appropriate training. 

For a list of legal services providers in your area that work with small firms and solo practitioners, click here for the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, The NYC Pro Bono Center posts “New Opportunities” which includes clinics and other short-term opportunities as they come up in New York.  These are also advertised in the monthly e-newsletter which gets sent to members.  

DID YOU KNOW?  That you can earn CLE credit for doing pro bono work in New York? Learn More

Finding the Resources and Training Support That I Need

Small firms have fewer available attorneys and support staff to perform pro bono.  Additionally, there may be less access to research tools.  Some pro bono providers are not set up to work with attorneys having fewer resources than big law firms.  

Possible Solutions:
Small firms can undertake pro bono assignments consistent with the level of resources they can bring to bear.  For example, whilst a class action suit requiring multiple lawyers and resources might not be an option, clinics and limited scope assignments are available that make an important impact on improving access to justice and where volunteer support is critically needed.  To return to Monday Night Law as an example, 2 CLE-credited training sessions on a wide range of practice areas (e.g. consumer, family, housing. discrimination, etc.) are offered prior to commencing. 

TIP! Check out this example archived in our library of the training offered by Human Rights First for volunteers interested in pro bono asylum work.

Training Calendar and Online Practice Area resources

Pro Bono Net's NY training calendar draws on its network of legal service organizations and bar association relationships to curate upcoming trainings across various areas of law of interest to the pro bono and public interest community.  These events are usually for CLE credit, and are free. You can receive a monthly update straight to your inbox by clicking here.

The probono.net/ny network contains a collection of resources and training materials in practice areas - Foreclosure, Housing, Immigration, Family Justice/DV, Votinrg Rights.  Each of these specialized practice areas are hosted by leading legal service organizations, and designed to assist legal services and pro bono lawyers representing clients, with information such as sample documents, training materials and other helpful resources.



The "right" EXPERTISE for pro bono: Supervision and Mentoring 



Attorneys in large organizations can often call on colleagues within their firm or department if an element of their pro bono assignment is outside their experience, e.g. tax.  Additionally, large legal organizations either independently or with a pro bono service provider can offer the in-house training needed to undertake certain types of assignments.  Generally small firms do not have such an option.

Possible solutions:
Small firm attorneys can volunteer with clinics that provide training before representation or counseling of clients.   Alternatively, some pro bono service providers that offer pro bono cases outside of the clinic model will provide training and mentoring when they work with small firm attorneys.  The Pro Bono Opportunities Guide includes a field in the description as to whether training and supervision are provided.  For example, the CLARO consumer debt clinic has a 2-hr "Basic CLARO training", and ongoing support throughout with a yearly (free) Advanced CLARO training series on consumer law issues, supported by the Feerick Center for Justice.  You can browse through these trainings, and other helpful consumer debt cases, sample pleadings and training materials by joining the NYC Consumer Debt Defense practice area. Don't forget to stay up to date on available pro bono trainings with our NY Training Calendar.

There is no pro bono culture at my office!


Pro bono work can be done in a variety of law offices and organizations. If there is no pro bono culture in your office, that could be due simply to no one having raised the topic, which could be due to misperceptions about what it takes to do pro bono.  For example:

Myth“Pro bono is for big law firms only.”  Pro bono is for all lawyers, regardless of the size of their law office, and regardless of a full-time pro bono coordinator in the office.  There are many resources available to lawyers who have an interest in doing pro bono. Click here for a list of legal service providers that work with small law firms and solo practitioners.

Myth: “My office has no relationships with legal services providers who place pro bono matters.” Most legal services organizations that place pro bono matters with small and mid-sized firms and solo practitioners are eager to work with new pro bono lawyers. Click here to explore how to search for those organizations in your area.

Myth: “My firm doesn't provide malpractice insurance to cover me on pro bono matters.”  Many legal services providers that place pro bono matters with law offices have their own malpractice insurance that will cover you.  Check with the non-profit organization that does the kind of work you’re interested in to confirm, but don’t rule out pro bono work on this basis alone.

Myth: “I don’t have any experience in practice areas available as pro bono, so I can’t do it.”  Many legal services providers that place pro bono matters with lawyers provide trainings, guides, and ongoing mentoring of the matters they place with pro bono lawyers. When in doubt, inquire into the kind of mentoring and supervision provided by a legal services organization that has available pro bono matters in your area. A lawyer can provide adequate representation in a new field through research and study of that area of law. Competent representation can also be provided through the association of a lawyer of established competence in that area of law. Because many legal services providers that work with smaller law firms provide training and supervision, you will likely have all of the support you need to ethically and competently represent a client pro bono.

While pro bono is currently a very established element of the culture at many large law firms, that was not always the case. Every firm is different, but creating a pro bono culture began with attorneys with an interest in pro bono.  Given the significant pro bono resources available in many cities, why not let the pro bono culture in your office begin with you?


I Don't Have a Pro Bono Co-ordinator in My Office, How Can I do Pro Bono? (CLE Overview) 

This program was held on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, sponsored by the Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services (Chair, Brenna DeVaney) and the Encouraging Pro Bono Outside Big Law Sub-Committee (Co-Chairs Rachael N. Clark and Gina Del Chiaro)

Introduction: Debra L. Raskin, President, New York City Bar Association; Partner, Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C.


  • Yacine Barry-Wun, Special Counsel for Housing Court Initiatives, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program;
  • Russ Bleemer, Program Coordinator, Monday Night Law Program, City Bar Justice Center;
  • K. Scott Kohanowski, Director, LGBT Advocacy Project, City Bar Justice Center; Staff Attorney, Foreclosure Project, City Bar Justice Center;
  • Mark O'Brien, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pro Bono Net; and
  • Sarah Diane McShea, Law Offices of Sarah Diane McShea.

Moderator:  John Ogden, Of Counsel, Falcon & Singer P.C.

Trying to do pro bono work without the resources and support available to attorneys in Big Law can be daunting.  This panel will identify "how-tos" and best practices for attorneys seeking to perform pro bono services without in-house assistance, and provide a chance to network with people who are doing it.  A tutorial on Pro Bono Net and how to utilize its online resources will also be given.

The full set of CLE materials from this event is available in the NYC Pro Bono Center library. You will need to join the NYC Pro Bono Center (it is free to join) to gain access to these materials, as well as a host of other helpful training materials resources, news and calendar events, including subscription to the monthly pro bono e-newsletter.  The NYC Pro Bono Center is co-ordinated by the Legal Aid Society, Pro Bono Net and the City Bar Justice Center.


Outside Big Law Volunteer Spotlight - Noam Biale


As this month's Volunteer Spotlight, we are featuring an associate and Pro Bono Coordinator at Sher Tremonte LLP, Noam Biale.  Although it is a small firm, Noam and the attorneys at Sher Tremonte have a sizeable and varied pro bono docket, including working with with non profit partners to protect refugees and immigrants. In this piece,  Noam shares some insight and advice for small firm/solo attorneys or any attorney looking to get involved with pro bono work. Find out more



Addressing Some Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I earn CLE credit for engaging in pro bono work?  

What about conflict checking? Are there any ethics rules for conflicts in pro bono?  

Do I need malpractice insurance?  

Do I need to pick a pro bono matter that falls within my current practice area?  

How do I find the right pro bono opportunity?  

I am a legal service organization and want to add a pro bono opportunity for attorneys Outside Big Law. How can I do that?  

About this initiative

This page was developed in July 2016, and last updated in September 2016. 

This initiative recognizes that there are some unique challenges that attorneys outside "big law" might face in engaging in pro bono.  This site seeks to identify these, raise awareness and identify solutions, and ways forward to continue to engage this important legal community. With only 30% of civil legal needs being met in New York, pro bono is a critical means of expanding access to civil legal services. We commend you for your interest in joining the effort to increase access to justice for all.