The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
May 21, 2019

Listening to Our Pro Bono Clients

“Recommending that law firms seek client feedback has become so commonplace and widespread in the industry that the advice is almost clichéd.”

Jim Pagliaro

Client relations and client feedback have become standard operating procedures on the business side of large law firms. Does the pro bono program adhere to the same values and follow the same standards? Let’s explore the variety of ways that listening to our pro bono clients can improve our delivery of pro bono services, enhance the professional development of firm attorneys, and have a lasting effect on the individuals and communities served.

Assuaging Your Clients’ Fears and Helping Them Be Better Clients

Like all clients, pro bono clients need to know that they can trust their attorneys. Lack of trust may cause them to withhold documents or information, behave oddly during court proceedings, or miss appointments altogether. Cultivating careful listening skills, however, will allow you to gain a better understanding of the underlying reasons for your client’s suspicions, which may not be apparent to a stranger. For example, clients might be justifiably intimidated by the prospect of being involved with lawyers and the legal system – perhaps they have had negative experiences in the past with the legal system, debt collection agencies, or law enforcement that make them suspicious and mistrusting. Clients may also harbor an inherent skepticism because the advice and assistance they are receiving is free. They may experience shame or embarrassment about needing pro bono assistance. You can only begin developing a more trusting relationship with clients once you are aware of any concerns they may have.

Straightforward steps can often have an outsized impact on your relationship with clients. Prepare a clear and tangible checklist of action items for them to accomplish. If there is a court date, draw a map of the courtroom, a diagram of how to manage the location, and explain what they can expect in the courtroom that day. Take the time to explain the importance of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege so that clients understand why friends and family might need to leave the meeting room. By taking such steps to both listen to and address the concerns your clients may have, you not only help alleviate their fears, but also encourage them to trust you, your legal advice, and your guidance.

As one pro bono attorney reflected, “I’ve found that my willingness to listen to their life experiences and difficulties makes my interaction with them more beneficial to both of us. I gain insights into their lives and they cooperate more fully when they know that the attorney genuinely cares.”

 Empowering Your Client

Pro bono and civil legal aid helps ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of your income. A critical element of ensuring fairness is to empower our pro bono clients, who so often feel powerless and voiceless. Part of helping clients gain control over their legal situations and lives is to clarify their goals, which may not align perfectly with your assumptions.

Listen to your client to get a sense of what they do and don’t know about their legal situation and the process they will be going through. You can then do your best to fill in any gaps in knowledge and understanding, thoroughly explain available options, and offer advice on alternative consequences. Having such conversations teaches your pro bono clients the process as they go and allows them to become better informed and more meaningful partners.

Listening to your client’s story and understanding their needs, even if they fall outside the scope of your representation, may also help you to empower them moving forward. Although you may not be equipped to provide the ancillary support they require, you should be able to point them in the right direction and present them with options that they previously did not know were available to them.

Overcome Your Own Bias and Become a Better Advocate

Why was an older pro bono client who needed a follow-up appointment to finish his paperwork never available first thing in the morning, when it was most convenient for his lawyer? A little probing revealed that the client was not only unemployed, but also homeless, and coming in at such an early hour conflicted with his ability to get a free breakfast.

Another pro bono attorney was working with a 24-year-old male client who was trying to establish a relationship with a four-year-old girl he had just learned was his daughter. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, child protective services became involved in the case, which distressed the client greatly. After having several discussions with her client, the attorney learned that because of his own negative childhood experiences with the child protection system, he had no faith that the system would protect his daughter. Knowing this background helped the attorney better understand her client’s concern, distrust, and anger toward the authority figures in the case, and ultimately helped her advocate more effectively for him.

People are not generally aware of their own biases, particularly if they are subtle. Your job as a lawyer is to work with clients to arrive at the best possible solution for them, and sometimes that might not always feel like the best solution to you. But if you are willing to listen to and communicate with your clients, you will be more likely to overcome your own biases, develop a better understanding of your clients’ thinking, and become a better advocate for their interests.

 Create More Meaningful Learning Experiences

Pro bono matters can be opportunities for learning, especially since they can provide lawyers with opportunities to hone interviewing skills, draft pleadings and briefs, conduct negotiations, provide compliance counselling, examine and prepare expert witnesses, prepare and argue motions and appeals, and sharpen other skills. In particular, junior lawyers at law firms seek the accelerated professional development opportunities and client contact that pro bono matters can provide. Through pro bono work, lawyers can have the opportunity to manage their own case long before they might be able to on a billable matter.

            Law is a service industry, which demands client satisfaction in order to remain profitable. Dealing with demanding clients and managing the lawyer-client relationship are skills that all lawyers need to develop. Pro bono engagements provide especially good means for developing these skills. Successful client interaction and relationship-building are transferrable skills. Obtaining meaningful feedback from pro bono clients also serves as a valuable tool to evaluate how effectively attorneys communicate with their clients, since such feedback allows them to identify areas for growth and improvement and strengthen any areas of weakness.

 Ensure That All Clients Are Treated Equally

All clients are clients of the firm. This widely expressed sentiment represents one of the most common pillars of a pro bono practice – the promise to treat pro bono work the same as billable matters.

One way to gauge whether firms are upholding this noble ideal is to solicit feedback from pro bono clients about their experience. This works particularly well if your firm already implements a feedback process for your billable clients to ensure satisfaction or improve future service. By comparing feedback provided by billable clients to that of pro bono clients, firms can ensure that there are no notable discrepancies in the ways that attorneys approach pro bono work.

Treating pro bono clients equally also means meeting their individual needs, the same way that you strive to meet the needs of your paying clients. However, the needs of your pro bono clients will, by their very nature, differ greatly from those of your clients who pay for your services. Lawyers need to adapt and be responsive to their clients’ needs, from the contours of the legal services provided to the level of compassion necessary to develop a trusting relationship. Reviewing feedback from pro bono clients is arguably the best way to ensure that the firm is meeting their needs with the same precision as the needs of billable clients, however much they may differ.

 Deepening Relationships with Partner Organizations

Because most law firm pro bono programs rely heavily on legal services organizations, it is critical to nurture these relationships. Beyond being thankful to a firm for taking on a large number of their matters, organizations need to feel comfortable with your commitment to deliver quality legal services and improvement. Careful listening skills and a creative mind will unearth the needs of the organization that lie just beneath the surface. Asking the right questions and being attentive to not only what representatives of organizations are saying, but also the way they are saying it, can give you a clearer picture of the condition of those organizations and what your firm can do to strengthen their operations. For example, one of the most common, recurring concerns voiced by pro bono providers’ staff members is frustration with firms’ intake and placement systems. Once you recognize this, the firm and the organization can work together to design and implement more efficient processes and procedures. These skills can also help you identify what resources an organization lacks that your firm may be able to provide. A firm that is willing to go above and beyond in this regard is a firm with whom organizations will want to work and will be seen as a valuable community partner.

Individuals dedicated to pro bono – whether they work at a law firm or a legal services/public interest organization – can strengthen and support each other. They should also view each other as partners rather than adversaries. After all, we have the same goals in mind: increasing pro bono and access to justice; ensuring that firms receive appropriate pro bono matters and handle them professionally; and structuring and implementing pro bono projects that make a positive and meaningful difference.

Maximize Your Impact

For most people, pro bono work is not about the hours, but rather the impact the work has on individuals, families, and communities. Our goal is to maximize the impact of every hour dedicated to pro bono work. This requires identifying where the need is greatest and working to fill that gap. It would be unwise to presume exactly where help is most needed at any given time in any given community. Instead, you should listen attentively to both your clients and the legal services organizations with whom you work, because they are deeply rooted within the community you are serving. They are also in the best position to suggest how your work can have a lasting impact.

The benefits of meeting clients and soliciting feedback is the best – and, frankly, the only – way to ensure that a law firm is providing the level of services and value that clients expect and need. By listening to your clients, you ensure that you are not just going through the motions, but are actively engaged in providing legal services that help both current and future clients. Although you might not work with these individuals again, hearing their feedback will make you a better advocate for future clients in similar situations. You can use your experience and knowledge gained from handling individual representations to create systematic structural changes through policy advocacy and other means that can have maximum impact on access to justice issues.

Legal services providers, when asked, can offer candid input about the market and models for providing better or different pro bono services. Asking organizations for their views and listening to their input could improve a firm’s strategic management decisions about elements of its pro bono program. Additionally, as law firms become more proactive in structuring their own pro bono projects, they are increasingly developing freestanding, firm-sponsored projects that are not administered by the local organizations. Given the resource limitations of those nonprofits, such efforts are desirable and a value-add to the community. Firms, however, cannot successfully take a completely go-it-alone approach. It is essential that they consult with local pro bono and legal services programs, because they often have information about the issues, neighborhoods, or organizations that are the focus of the firm’s new project. The sense of history and knowledge of the larger legal services community can be vitally important to firms in selecting a project. Prior consultation with the legal services experts can avert uninformed choices and problematic initiatives, which ultimately allows the firm to avoid duplication and ensure that scarce resources actually address critical needs.

Have you utilized any of these techniques? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Hat tip to PBI interns Ali Boyd, Aubrey Favors, Erin Killeen, and Hiba Said for their significant assistance.

May 14, 2019

A Pro Bono Collaboration to Help Innocent Owners Recover Seized Property

In September 2016, United Airlines**, Seyfarth Shaw*, and Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) began a pro bono collaboration to help low-income individuals in Chicago recover vehicles and other property seized by the police during an arrest. This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, originally intended to go after crime lords, drug cartels, and white-collar criminals, was being routinely turned against “workaday homes, cars, cash savings, and other belongings of innocent people who are never charged with a crime” in cities throughout the United States, as explained in a 2013 New Yorker article.

In Chicago, police are authorized to seize property suspected of being used in connection with a crime. To recover seized property, property owners, despite never being charged with a crime, must prove they are innocent in two separate asset forfeiture proceedings: (1) the state proceeding initiated by the Cook County State’s Attorney, and (2) the city proceeding handled by the City Department of Administrative Hearings. The Chicago Police Department seizes and impounds thousands of vehicles every year, and virtually none of the people involved have any form of legal assistance to navigate the labyrinthine proceedings to recover their property. Until recently, there were no pro bono or legal aid programs in Chicago offering free legal help in this area.

The collaboration began when United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw decided to sponsor an Equal Justice Works Fellow to work at CGLA to help innocent owners recover their seized property. Steve Fus, Associate General Counsel at United Airlines, explained that “it was the injustice of it all that was crying out for help” which drew United Airlines’ Legal Department to this project. Allegra Nethery, Pro Bono and Philanthropy Partner at Seyfarth Shaw, described the partnership as addressing “a true unmet legal need” where the clients had no right to counsel, and the private bar was not interested in taking the cases because of their relatively low worth.

Andrew Hemmer, the Equal Justice Works Fellow, trained and mentored volunteer attorneys from United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw who teamed up to represent individuals whose personal property had been seized. Typically, the clients were innocent owners, and their property was seized because it was allegedly used in connection with a crime unbeknownst to them. Volunteer attorneys shadowed Hemmer at court proceedings as part of their training to learn how these hearings were conducted.

During the two-year span of the fellowship project, 117 clients received legal assistance with 26 of those cases led by volunteers from United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw. The project also developed a comprehensive set of training materials, sample forms, explanatory step-by-step guides to litigating forfeiture cases, and other materials to assist and guide future claimants

In addition, Hemmer and the project, along with many other advocates, played a role in supporting impactful changes to Illinois civil forfeiture law, including increasing transparency in the forfeiture process and shifting the burden of proof from the property owner to the state. The bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law in September 2017.

At United, a large percentage of the legal department participated in trainings for the civil asset forfeiture project, and nine attorneys directly represented clients at civil asset forfeiture trials. Transactional attorneys who had little to no litigation experience were given the opportunity to learn new skills and obtain successful outcomes for their pro bono clients. As Nethery pointed out, “Our very first win was by a corporate associate. You don’t need to be a litigator” to make an impact in delivering pro bono legal services. Fus commented on the value of providing pro bono legal services, “Regardless of what your skills are, it will be beneficial to someone who doesn’t have any [legal training] at all.”

When asked how to replicate this partnership model in other jurisdictions, Nethery advised: “[T]alk to the people involved in the process, find where the cases are being heard, have someone up to date on the process of the law that can train people.”

In October 2018, United Airlines’ Legal Department was presented with the 2018 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award for their innovative project with Seyfarth Shaw and CGLA. Their project is an example of how legal departments can collaborate to address an unmet legal need in the community and make a lasting impact. The partners had the opportunity to discuss the history and impact of the project and share lessons-learned for their successful pro bono partnership during a recent Pro Bono Institute webinar.

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

May 1, 2019

Chief Legal Officers Advocate for Funding of Legal Services Corporation

For the third year in a row, in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) proposal to eliminate Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) worked with the in-house community to gather the support to ensure LSC is fully funded.

This week, more than 260 general counsel and chief legal officers signed a letter delivered to Congress advocating for LSC funding for FY2020. An impressive group of leaders, representing legal departments diverse in size, geography, and industry, joined this effort.

As the largest funder of civil legal aid in the U.S., LSC is the cornerstone of ensuring access to justice in the U.S., providing resources and financial support to more than 130 legal aid organizations around the country that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments.

Last year, a similar effort in response to the budget proposal to eliminate LSC gathered over 250 general counsel and chief legal officers who joined a letter to Congress to support the continued funding of LSC. Congress and the President ultimately approved a new spending package that increased LSC funding for FY2019. CPBO is proud to support LSC in this effort to secure funding and will continue working with the in-house community and our partners in access to justice to ensure that justice for all is a reality. For more information about LSC and the efforts to secure LSC’s funding, contact CPBO at

Read the full letter here.

April 22, 2019

Financial Institutions Unite for Pro Bono

PBI is gearing up for the first-ever Financial Institution Pro Bono Day, Thursday, May 2, 2019. Financial institutions from across the U.S. are working together for a day of volunteering to provide a diverse range of pro bono legal services to vulnerable communities. Organized by Corporate Pro Bono, PBI’s project to support in-house pro bono, Financial Institution Pro Bono Day will spotlight the severe gap in legal services for underserved individuals in the U.S. and promote in-house pro bono engagement and collaboration.

This guest blog, written by Mark Gittelman, Managing Chief Counsel – Bankruptcy and Business Reorganization for PNC Bank, tells the story of how Financial Institution Pro Bono Day came to be.

It’s always a great feeling to help others in need. It’s an even better feeling when teaming up with friends to help many in need.

Last October, at the Pro Bono Institute Annual Dinner, I spent some time reconnecting with friends in the pro bono world who are fellow bank lawyers. Among those in the crowd were David Brooks from Bank of America and Arunas Gudaitis from BNY Mellon, both of whom I only really see at this event and at the PBI Annual Conference in Washington. As an in-house bank lawyer, I rarely get to work with fellow bank lawyers outside of my specialty area during the year. We started chatting about constructing a way to work with each other and other fellow bank lawyers, do good things for our communities, and support Corporate Pro Bono. And with that, Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was born!

Greg Jordan, PNC’s general counsel, and Eve Runyon, PBI’s CEO, were both extremely supportive of the concept. PBI provided contact information for colleagues at other institutions and hosted an initial call to roll out the initiative and set a date. The project was underway!

The amazingly positive reaction among the bank lawyer community has been overwhelming! So far, lawyers and legal department staff from financial institutions across the United States have scheduled over 40 events in 19 cities with hundreds of volunteers set to participate in pro bono opportunities on May 2. It is totally gratifying to see so many motivated colleagues and friends wanting to help others! And who said that bank lawyers can be boring?

The collaboration among bank teams has also opened up opportunities to share experiences with our bank lawyer colleagues. PNC will be proud to welcome lawyers from Vanguard, Lincoln Financial, TD Bank, JPMorgan Chase and BNY Mellon to a Senior Law Center wills clinic and a Refugee Adjustment of Status clinic in Philadelphia, and a Veterans Benefits clinic in Pittsburgh along with work on Clean Slate documentation to seal criminal records, on May 2.

On behalf of the PNC and its Pro Bono Team, I want to say thank you to the participating financial institutions, PBI and Corporate Pro Bono, and the many law firm and service provider partners for all of the hard work undertaken to put this event together, and for all of the good work that will be done on May 2.

April 12, 2019

Rule Change in California Removes Barriers for In-House Pro Bono

The California Supreme Court recently loosened restrictions on the ability of non-locally licensed in-house counsel to engage in pro bono legal services, effective March 1, 2019. Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) worked to advocate for amendments to the California Rules of Court and the State Bar Rules that would remove burdensome restrictions on pro bono practice for in-house counsel. Approximately three dozen Chief Legal Officers (CLOs) signed onto letters in support of the rule change.

Prior to the amendments, in order to practice pro bono, non-locally licensed, registered in-house counsel were required to additionally register as Legal Services Attorneys and restricted to providing pro bono services for only a single qualifying provider for a maximum of three years. These limitations presented a significant barrier to many California in-house counsel from engaging in pro bono and ran counter to the state bar’s commitment to bridge the justice gap.

While California did not go as far as the four states with model rules (Illinois, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin) in eliminating all unnecessary restrictions on non-locally licensed registered in-house counsel from practicing pro bono, the amendments are a welcome change in a state with singularly strict rules.

The Programs Committee of the Board of Trustees of the California State Bar took up the issue in 2018, proposing amendments to ease the restrictions. The issue went before the full Board in the fall of 2018, which sought public comments on the proposed rules. On December 12, 2018, the State Bar of California filed a petition with the California Supreme Court proposing the revisions.  Just over two months later, on February 22, 2019, the Supreme Court approved adoption of the proposed amendments.

The amendments do away with the Legal Services Attorney dual registration requirement and the time limit on providing pro bono services. Under the amended rules, in-house counsel are not limited to providing pro bono through a single legal aid organization, although counsel must submit a supplemental form identifying the legal aid organizations and the supervising attorney. Additionally, registered in-house counsel may provide pro bono services through either eligible legal aid organizations or the qualifying institution that employs him or her.  

A unique feature of California’s new rule permits in-house counsel to provide pro bono services through their employer’s pro bono program. This aspect of the rule builds in flexibility for in-house counsel who are participating in pro bono work under the auspices of their legal department’s pro bono program, which may offer a variety of engagements throughout the year. It is a worthwhile feature to consider for states seeking to ensure accountability for pro bono services, which can come from the institution employing in-house counsel as well as from a legal aid organization.   

The PBEye congratulates all involved in bringing about this rule change in California, which should pave the way for increased in-house pro bono and improve access to justice.

Interested in learning more about which states authorize in-house attorneys to do pro bono and other rules governing pro bono practice? CPBO offers many helpful resources on the right to practice pro bono, including an interactive map with state-by-state information about pro bono practice rules, a Guide to In-House Pro Bono Multijurisdictional Practice Rules, and an infographic on the Right to Practice. CPBO also offers a Guide to Select Rules for Pro Bono Practice that provides a state-by-state view of pro bono rules governing limited scope representation, CLE for pro bono, out-of-state and emeritus attorneys, among others. If you have questions about the rules in your jurisdiction, please contact CPBO Director Tammy Sun.

March 20, 2019

CPBO Releases 2018 Benchmarking Survey Results

Ready to learn about the latest trends in in-house pro bono? Corporate Pro Bono’s 2018 Benchmarking Report is hot off the press! Since 2010, CPBO’s biennial benchmarking survey highlights key trends in in-house pro bono and enables legal departments to compare the performance and management of their pro bono programs with those of other departments. Historically, the survey always covers topics such as program administration, policies, insurance, partnerships, projects, global pro bono, metrics, communications, and budgets. For the 2018 Benchmarking Report, CPBO also incorporated new questions in the survey we sent to in-house legal departments that included questions about dedicated pro bono managers, the tools departments use to track metrics, and strategies to encourage pro bono participation.

Several trends have become near-universal features of pro bono performance and management since CPBO’s initial 2010 Benchmarking Report, and this year was no exception. These trends include:

  • in-house pro bono is voluntary
  • participation in pro bono service is permitted during normal work hours
  • in-house pro bono engages lawyers and other professional staff
  • in-house pro bono programs are managed by committee or a point person
  • communications is an element of in-house pro bono programs

There were several new trends on which CPBO focused this year. One emerging trend is the growing interest in measuring in-house pro bono and the variety of tools that legal departments are using to track this data. CPBO found that spreadsheets are the most popular tool for pro bono metrics, followed by use of document management software and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) platforms or software. CPBO will explore metrics in further depth during the In-House concurrent program “Measuring Up: Evaluating Your Pro Bono Program” at PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference, which will feature several examples of pro bono metrics tools, including an overview of the tools and measurements used, exploring the value of what is measured, and sharing how legal departments utilize data to advance their pro bono programs.

Additionally, the 2018 Benchmarking Report reveals that there has been a steady growth in the use of certain tools and strategies to demonstrate the importance of pro bono within legal departments. Among these tools, recognizing pro bono participation at department meetings has risen markedly among respondents, from 36 percent in 2012 to 73 percent in 2018. Similarly, more departments are using awards and newsletters to recognize pro bono volunteers. These trends indicate not just growing appreciation for pro bono volunteers but also the increased value that departments place on pro bono.

To learn more about the 2018 Benchmarking Report or in-house pro bono, please contact CPBO at

February 14, 2019

News Flash! You Don’t Have To Be a Lawyer to Do Pro Bono

While many associate “legal pro bono services” with attorneys, efforts have shown that paralegals and administrative staff in the legal departments of companies, as well as attorneys and professionals in other departments, are actively engaged in pro bono. There are many ways for employees, regardless of their title and position in a company, to provide pro bono legal services. To help companies navigate how to effectively engage legal department professionals and other company employees in pro bono, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) recently released a new paper on this topic. Here are key takeaways from CPBO’s new resource:

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Many companies have successfully engaged professional staff and employees outside the legal department in legal pro bono services and have done so in different ways. CPBO’s 2016 Benchmarking Report reported that professional staff participate in 92% of in-house pro bono programs.

Depending on the company and its pro bono culture, there are a variety of short-term or long-term pro bono engagements that can engage staff. Some companies select opportunities that are legal in nature but do not require a lawyer to complete the task, such as intake clinics, while others structure opportunities that contemplate involvement of their professionals and staff working in partnership and under the supervision of a lawyer.

The paper offers concrete examples of how various legal departments have expanded engagement to involve legal department professionals and staff, and attorneys and professionals outside the legal department. United Health Group** is an example of a legal department that created a project involving lawyers and legal department professionals alike to provide limited-scope pro bono assistance to review medical and military files for veterans seeking benefits. Dentsu Aegis Network** exemplifies another model of engagement in which the legal department engaged employees outside of the department in marketing, communications, and public relations to work on an initiative connecting communities to appropriate legal services. The paper details many more examples of pro bono projects engaging professionals both within and outside the legal department.

Do your homework first.

In order for any expanded engagement to succeed, the company should consider some key issues to ensure success. For example, does the company have a clearly-stated policy that any employee can engage in pro bono? Does the company have malpractice insurance for pro bono matters that covers professional staff and attorneys who work in other departments? Does the company have appropriate supervision for professionals and staff to prevent the unauthorized practice of law? The pro bono chair or committee can take the initiative in helping the company examine questions such as these. CPBO offers many resources to help on these topics, including a Guide to Professional Liability Insurance for In-House Pro Bono, FAQs for pro bono policies, and a Guide to In-House Pro Bono Multijurisdictional Practice Rules.

The paper also discusses key issues for consideration, such as training and recognition, as well as solutions to common challenges.

Broadening engagement benefits both the community and the company.

Broadening the pool of pro bono volunteers creates benefits for all those involved. It benefits the company by promoting employee engagement, reinforces corporate social responsibility objectives, builds relationships among employees who do not ordinarily work together, and enhances the reputation of the company. By encouraging lawyers and staff to work in teams, pro bono service builds morale and sustains continuing interest in pro bono engagement.

Broadening engagement also means that a company can have a greater impact in serving communities that cannot afford legal assistance. With a deeper bench of volunteers, a company can serve greater numbers of pro bono clients and take on broader access to justice initiatives more efficiently and effectively than if participation were limited to legal department attorneys.

To learn more about expanding a legal department’s pro bono program to include paralegals, support staff, and attorneys and professionals outside the legal department, read CPBO’s new paper here.


**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

January 25, 2019

Nourishing Bodies and Communities Through Pro Bono

“Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.” – Jacques Diouf

As we recover from another holiday season full of celebratory meals and parties, many of us are re-committing to healthy eating. Healthy eating, however, isn’t always just a matter of choice (or willpower)! In an era of high food prices and food deserts, sustainable access to nutrition in low-income communities has become a heightened concern. The epidemic of diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity points to the urgent need for food justice and improving access to nutritious food. Although programs such as public assistance benefits exist, many eligible individuals and families do not have access to the limited assistance available or cannot make effective use of them, especially if they live in a rural area or a food desert.

Pro bono lawyers can substantially improve food access by tackling projects at global, national, state, local, or individual levels. There are a range of pro bono opportunities, for litigators and transactional lawyers alike. Potential projects vary in size and complexity, offering options that fit the needs and interests of diverse pro bono lawyers. Moreover, law firms and legal departments may be in a position to align this type of pro bono work with already existing community service projects, such as ones targeted at schools, children, or families.

Increasing access to healthy food and fighting hunger are objectives that enjoy broad support. Because many people – not just foodies – feel strongly about these goals, you may be able to excite and engage attorneys, some of whom may not have previously been the most active pro bono participants.

Pro bono lawyers play a pivotal role in the process of eliminating health disparities in disadvantaged communities and improving access to nutrition in a variety of ways. Examples of pro bono opportunities that increase food accessibility and tackle legal challenges associated with structural food injustice include: providing legal services to organizations and programs that aim to eliminate food inaccessibility, direct advocacy for legislative and policy change, partnering with existing organizations to initiate or expand food-related programs, and more. Although the fight for access to nutrition is often more than a legal battle, there are meaningful pro bono opportunities available.

One entry point of involvement is providing legal services and representation to nonprofit organizations with missions centered on tackling food injustice and promoting nutritious food accessibility. For example, Alston & Bird*† represented FamilyCook Productions by reviewing the organization’s employment policies and assisting with the structure of their license agreement, enabling the nonprofit to further expand their programs and serve more than 100,000 people.

In addition to their work establishing the Global FoodBanking Network, DLA Piper*† provides legal services to Feeding America and numerous other food banks. Similarly, Armstrong Teasdale*† represents The Link Market, an organization that operates in prominent food desert St. Louis, Missouri to establish quality grocery stores in accessible locations along the city metro line and works directly with local farmers and gardens to ensure local, fresh, nutritious foods are sold at the grocery markets. Brown Rudnick*† and Greenberg Traurig*† provided pro bono legal services to Community Servings as they constructed their Food Campus, which will allow the organization to triple its production of food for those who are in need of special dietary meals.

Partnering and working directly with already existing organizations whose missions are aligned with food accessibility is another meaningful way lawyers are making a difference. Ballard Spahr*† has worked with The Common Market, a nonprofit organization that aims to manage the supply chain between local, sustainable food producers and inner-city communities, as well as cultivates family farms and markets products to local institutional buyers such as hospitals and schools. Firm lawyers assisted the organization’s expansion by establishing similar programs in other states to promote accessibility to fresh, nutritious, and sustainable food in local institutions and inner-city markets. McDermott Will & Emery*† conducted legal research and worked with The Medical Legal Partnership for Children to publish a report, Food Stamps and Immigrant Families.

A number of legal services organizations and pro bono providers are entering this space and crafting meaningful pro bono opportunities. For example, the Conservation Law Project in Massachusetts created its Legal Food Hub  to connect those involved in the farming and food production industries to pro bono lawyers. With its goal of helping the local, sustainable food system, the Legal Food Hub offers assistance to eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and farm/food-related organizations in New England with legal issues such as land acquisition/transfer, estate issues, taxes, contracts, and corporation formation.

Pro bono lawyers can bring significant changes to low-income communities, ensuring that everyone has the ability to live a healthy life free from hunger. To learn more about opportunities and examples of pro bono work addressing access to nutrition, check out the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s publication, Pro Bono Food for Thought: Improving Access to Nutrition, and our podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour (specifically the episodes featuring Scott Hunt of Armstrong Teasdale and Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, formerly of Ballard Spahr).


Hat tip to PBI intern Hiba Said for her help with this post.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

January 17, 2019

Comcast NBCUniversal Spotlights Pro Bono Engagement At All-Hands Day

There are many people who would like to do pro bono, but then have excuses at the ready for why it’s not the right time or opportunity. Sometimes, even when our hearts are in the right place, we need to change our way of thinking to spur a change in action.

At an attorney all-hands meeting in October 2018, Comcast NBCUniversal** (“Comcast”) tackled head-on the issue of incentivizing pro bono engagement. The pro bono session at the offsite meeting, which assembled approximately 250 attorneys from across Comcast’s global offices, featured a discussion about Comcast’s pro bono program and explored different ways to elevate pro bono engagement.

Public expressions of pro bono support from the executive management is often an effective way to motivate pro bono engagement. At the Comcast meeting, the company’s general counsel, Arthur Block, announced that Comcast had joined the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, pledging to encourage at least half of their legal staff to support and participate in pro bono service. For those on the fence about participating, it helps to know that leadership is on board and values the use of company time for pro bono.

Several leaders in the legal department shared their personal experiences with pro bono work, which included overturning the conviction of a wrongfully accused client and sharing his first night of freedom, and obtaining a green card for a child who fled persecution. This kind of storytelling has the power to shape decision-making by inspiring and illustrating the impact an individual can make through pro bono service.

Comcast also organized a panel discussion to talk about the importance of pro bono for serving communities in need and the barriers to pro bono service. One of the panelists, Syon Bhanot, a behavioral economics professor, shared his research on why people do pro bono and how to get people to do more of it. Bhanot talked about a common impediment to volunteering called “present bias,” in which individuals often feel they are too busy at any given moment to take on a pro bono project. To overcome this bias, Bhanot’s tip is to afford people the opportunity to sign up for a pro bono opportunity far into the future and encourage them to block it off on their calendar. In behavioral economics terms, carving out time for future engagement is a “commitment device” that helps to modify incentives and achieve change in behavior.

Bhanot also addressed the “free-rider temptation.” Some people may think that their participation in pro bono is unnecessary because enough of their colleagues are doing pro bono. To counteract this phenomenon, Bhanot suggests leveraging reputation by playing into the human desire to demonstrate “prosocial” behavior that benefits others. Just as giving out “I voted” stickers can motivate citizens to cast their ballots on Election Day, handing out “I did pro bono” buttons or ribbons can create the prosocial incentive to engage.

Another challenge Bhanot discussed is the problem of “inattention,” which occurs when people do not pay heed to an issue despite its critical importance. The behavioral economics solution is to increase the salience and visibility of the problem so that it cannot be ignored. Bhanot discussed an example of an intervention in a sick population in Kenya. Despite serious illness, the community was not complying with taking their life-saving medications. Researchers devised a mobile phone app that sent text messages to patients reminding them to take their medicines. If the patients did not respond that they had taken their medicine, then the intervention escalated and they received a phone call reminding them of the benefits of taking the medicine. This intervention significantly lowered the rate of medication noncompliance and saved lives.

Translating this example to the pro bono context, Bhanot encouraged companies and law firms to make it harder for volunteers to ignore the need for legal services by shining more light on the lack of legal services for low-income communities. As part of the panel discussion, Eve Runyon, the President and CEO of Pro Bono Institute, discussed the need for pro bono legal services to close the justice gap. Runyon shared some of the findings from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) June 2017 report, including that more than 60 million Americans have family incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty line, and that more than 86% of the civil legal problems reported by these low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help. Moreover, in 2017, low-income Americans approached LSC-funded legal aid organizations with approximately 1.7 million legal problems, more than half of which were turned away due to lack of resources.  Knowing these facts about the scope of the unmet need for legal services increases the likelihood that pro bono volunteers will sign up to help.

One additional way to “nudge” behavior to improve pro bono engagement levels is to help potential volunteers reconnect with their passion. Bhanot discussed how many attorneys went to law school because they wanted to help people, but their day-to-day legal practice may feel removed from this goal. By tapping into and reminding volunteers of the passion that ignited their legal studies long ago, they are more likely to seek out opportunities to help others.  Sharing stories of how pro bono volunteers made a difference in their work is an effective and visceral way to remind people how they can help.

To learn more about how to use behavioral science to encourage pro bono engagement, join us at PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference, where Professor Bhanot will be speaking on motivating pro bono engagement.

To learn more about how all-hands days can have a positive impact on your company’s pro bono program, review CPBO’s recently-released paper on Incorporating Pro Bono Into In-House All-Hands Meetings here or contact CPBO at  For more information about the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, click here.



*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory


December 20, 2018

Advancing Right to Counsel in Housing

Housing is a fundamental human right, yet the United States does not guarantee a right to counsel for individuals fighting to protect the roof over their heads. This means low-income tenants face a high risk of unfavorable outcomes in housing court, including wrongful evictions, simply because they are ill-equipped to defend themselves in eviction proceedings. In several jurisdictions, advocates are organizing to improve the status quo by securing a right to counsel in housing eviction cases. These efforts present unique opportunities for pro bono lawyers.

New York. In New York City, there are 230,000 eviction cases or other proceedings brought against tenants annually. Historically, less than one percent of tenants have counsel while more than 90 percent of landlords are represented. Following an initiative that brought a significant increase in annual funding for legal services for tenants, the percentage of represented tenants in eviction cases increased from one percent in 2013 to 27 percent in 2016, and the eviction rate dropped by 24 percent from 2013 to 2015, according to the New York City Office of Civil Justice. This initiative served as a precursor, bolstering longtime efforts by a broad coalition in New York to advocate for right to counsel legislation.

On August 11, 2017, New York City passed a law providing that at the end of five years, all income-eligible tenants (residents whose income is 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less) will be guaranteed legal representation in eviction cases. The city is rolling out the right to counsel by zip code. Pro bono attorneys helped draft the law, advocate for its passage, and research legal questions for the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, such as whether the city had authority to implement a right to counsel without infringing on the authority of the courts or the state.

San Francisco. In 2012, less than 10 percent of tenants in San Francisco were represented in eviction cases. That same year, the city passed its Right to Counsel in Civil Matters Ordinance, declaring San Francisco a “Right to Counsel City,” and authorizing a one-year Right to Civil Counsel Pilot Program, implemented by the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) of the Bar Association of San Francisco, to train pro bono attorneys to provide full-scope representation for tenants in eviction cases. The Pilot Program, which ran from October 2012 to September 2013, increased the representation of indigent tenants in eviction cases and provided critical data to support a right to counsel by showing that tenants are less likely to be evicted when they receive full-scope representation in housing court. On June 5, 2018, the city passed a ballot initiative, creating a taxpayer-funded right to counsel for all tenants in eviction cases with no income-eligibility threshold, and giving the city one year to determine how to implement the measure, which would expand legal services for tenants. In addition, JDC’s Homeless Advocacy Project continues to offer pro bono volunteers opportunities to help clients fight eviction proceedings, among other services.

District of Columbia. According to the DC Bar Foundation, there are more than 30,000 eviction cases each year in Washington, D.C. and, historically, only 10 percent of tenants in those cases have representation compared to 90 percent of landlords. In 2015, a collaborative of law firms and legal services organizations created a Housing Right to Counsel Project, which trains pro bono attorneys to provide legal representation to tenants in eviction cases involving subsidized housing. A year later, the D.C. Council introduced a bill to establish right to counsel projects that would expand representation in eviction cases. In July 2017, the D.C. Council approved the bill and allocated $4.5 million to fund representation in civil cases involving fundamental human needs, including housing. In addition to staffing the Housing Right to Counsel Project, pro bono attorneys have played an important role, including representing indigent clients in housing matters through the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s Advocacy and Justice Clinic, and providing same-day legal information to pro se parties at the Landlord Tenant Resource Center in D.C. Superior Court.

Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, approximately 24,000 evictions are filed annually, in which only eight percent of tenants are represented, compared to 81 percent of landlords, according to Community Legal Services (CLS). In June 2017, the Philadelphia City Council held a hearing on the right to counsel in housing, resulting in the mayor launching the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project in January 2018 and boosting funding for landlord-tenant reforms, including legal representation in housing court, to $850,000 in July 2018. CLS leads a team of legal services organizations in implementing the Project, including staffing the Landlord Tenant Help Center at the Philadelphia Municipal Court up to 40 hours a week, funding a court navigator to direct litigants through the court process, and staffing a tenant hotline, among other services. Pro bono attorneys conduct intakes and provide limited scope representation to tenants through the Lawyer for the Day program, and take case referrals from the Landlord Tenant Help Center through Philadelphia VIP. Pro bono attorneys also have helped to work on reforms to Philadelphia Municipal Court Procedures and to conduct research on other issues relating to the right to counsel.

Newark. In Essex County (which includes Newark, NJ) there are approximately 40,000 eviction cases annually, in which most landlords are represented, but 99 percent of tenants are unrepresented, according to the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest. In July 2018, the law firm McCarter & English* announced a partnership with the city of Newark creating a pro bono program to represent tenants in housing court. A month later, the City Council approved an ordinance to create a nonprofit to provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction whose income is 200 percent of the federal poverty line or less, with a focus initially on seniors, the disabled, and undocumented residents, although the ordinance does not provide funding or details about the nonprofit. Through the McCarter & English program, to be run by a fellow, law firm attorneys will take on pro bono engagements while partnering with legal services organizations to represent low-income tenants in eviction proceedings.

Additional Resources

According to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, “Having a lawyer can make the difference between keeping a home or losing it.” When people lose their homes, the adverse ripple effects on their health, education, employment, and the security of their families can be profound. Every individual and family who loses their housing results in social and economic costs for the community, including increased homelessness and use of public shelters and benefits.

The five cities spotlighted here are just some of the locations around the United States where the right to counsel movement is flourishing and where pro bono volunteers are providing critical research, advocacy, and, in some jurisdictions, direct legal representation to fill the gap. To learn more about right to counsel and pro bono, please visit:

To read the full article click here.

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