Pro Bono Outside Big Law
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.
WHAT'S ON THIS PAGE?
- Pro Bono Resources: Spotlight on Barriers & Strategies
- Program Materials - I Don't Have a Pro Bono Co-ordinator, How Can I Do Pro Bono?
- Outside Big Law Volunteer Spotlight - Noam Biale
- Frequently Asked Questions (e.g. malpractice insurance, conflicts, CLE credit)
- 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.
- NY Volunteer Opportunities List for Attorneys Outside Big Law (*NYC Pro Bono Center members only (free))
- Pro Bono Opportunities Guide and the NY Training Calendar
- Outside Big Law Volunteer Spotlight - John Ogden
- About the NYC Bar Association Pro Bono & Legal Services Committee
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 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.
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.
DID YOU KNOW? That you can earn CLE credit for doing pro bono work in New York? Learn More
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
Can I earn CLE credit for engaging in pro bono work?
It is possible to earn CLE credit for undertaking pro bono work, and there are certain legal service providers that are approved to provide such credit. Typically, 2 hours of work entitles an attorney to earn 1 pro bono CLE credit, and a maximum of 10 pro bono CLE credit hours may be earned during any one reporting cycle in New York. More information is available on the NY Courts website, including FAQ and a list of accredited legal services providers. Whether pro bono CLE credit can be provided is included as a field in the listings on the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.
What about conflict checking? Are there any ethics rules for conflicts in pro bono?
Attorneys in all sized offices must comply with the applicable ethical rules, including those relating to conflicts of interest. Before agreeing to represent any client pro bono, you must make sure that the new representation does not raise any conflicts of interest with current clients. However, note that the ABA and many jurisdictions have special rules for limited representation provided by non-profits and others in certain pro bono settings. For example, Rule 6.5 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct excuses attorneys from completing a conflicts check when they are participating in nonprofit or court programs that offer limited legal services, where there is no expectation of continuing representation. For more information on the ABA Model Rules, click here. In New York, lawyers engaging in pro bono must comply with all of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, which includes a rule similar to ABA Model Rule 6.5: see NY Rule of Conduct Rule 6.5, Participation in Limited Pro Bono Legal Services Programs.
Do I need malpractice insurance?
It is critical that you check whether pro bono legal services are covered by your firm's malpractice insurance. If you do not have such coverage for pro bono work, check to see whether the pro bono service provider includes malpractice coverage for volunteer attorneys. Many legal service organizations provide malpractice insurance for their volunteers, and this information is indicated in the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide listing as a separate field.
Do I need to pick a pro bono matter that falls within my current practice area?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. That said, attorneys do often take on pro bono work in practice areas that are new to them. There are a range of pro bono opportunities available and sometimes legal service organizations will provide the training, support and supervision needed to accept volunteers new to a practice area. Justine Rousseau for example provided help in family law with the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program even though this was not her area of practice. Other times, only experienced practitioners are sought. The level of experience required will typically be specified in the volunteer posting, but it's an important first question when approaching a legal service organization about a pro bono opportunity.
As a starting point, we suggest that you browse through the list of pro bono opportunities available to attorneys at small and medium sized law firms in the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide and explore your options. Another place to start may be the library - the NYC Pro Bono Center also hosts a collection of training resources on specific pro bono projects and programs around New York City, including a webinar series, "Pro Bono in New York" that spotlights pro bono opportunities with a range of organizations in areas such as foreclosure, immigration, uncontested divorce and non profit/community development.
How do I find the right pro bono opportunity?
Great question! This is featured above, in our Barriers and Solutions area.
I am a legal service organization and want to add a pro bono opportunity for attorneys Outside Big Law. How can I do that?
We are always looking to stay up to date on opportunities and welcome new additions! Information about a new opportunity can be submitted through this online form. It will be reviewed by a site administrator before being published online as part of the New York Pro Bono Opportunities Guide..
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.