The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
August 5, 2019

When In-House Pro Bono Programs Go Pro

As in-house pro bono has evolved and matured over the past two decades, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) has seen departments adopt different models for management of their pro bono programs that most commonly engage staff on a volunteer basis to oversee the department’s pro bono effort. According to CPBO’s 2018 Benchmarking Report, 88% of in-house pro bono programs have a pro bono committee and 57% of programs have a pro bono coordinator. However 8% of the responding departments pay someone to manage or coordinate the pro bono program. Over the years, some departments have elected to hire dedicated in-house pro bono professionals, ranging from a full-time employee to a part-time employee to a time-limited fellow; in other instances, an attorney divides time between pro bono responsibilities and business responsibilities. Other legal departments have tried out professional management of their pro bono programs and returned to volunteer leadership as a better fit.

CPBO recently interviewed companies that have hired dedicated pro bono professionals to better understand the various models of pro bono management. We spoke to these departments about choosing an appropriate management model for the company, the underlying decision-making process, and the advantages and challenges in hiring a pro bono professional.

Some common themes emerged from CPBO’s research and discussions with in-house pro bono leaders:

  • Decision-making: Generally, legal departments did not conduct a formal assessment to determine whether to hire a dedicated pro bono professional. Rather, the decision was made based on the experience and goals of the program administrators and leadership. There was a shared understanding that professionalization was the right move at the time the decision was made. The General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer of the department was the ultimate decision-maker in all cases about whether to hire a dedicated pro bono professional.
  • Models: The models for hiring a dedicated pro bono professional include: (1) a legal fellow or a full-time hire for limited duration; (2) a full-time employee, with no term limit; (3) a full-time hire who has a dual function and divided responsibilities between managing the pro bono program and handling company business; and (4) a part-time employee or independent contractor who works a limited number of hours on pro bono management.
  • Responsibilities: Depending on the goals of the legal department for the pro bono program, and whether the pro bono professional is a full-time, part-time, long-term, or short-term hire, the pro bono professional’s job responsibilities may include solely strategic tasks (such as implementing a strategic plan for or an expansion of the program), solely operational tasks (such as planning pro bono trainings and events, and maintaining the pro bono program’s website and calendar), or a mix of the two.
  • Benefits: Some of the benefits of having a professional pro bono manager include not trying to squeeze in work on the pro bono program around one’s day job; being able to take on bigger projects and goals; having more time to visit legal department staff in multiple offices to understand their interests and needs; and developing relationships with both external partners and other internal departments such as Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • Challenges: Some of the challenges of hiring a dedicated pro bono professional include expense, inability to add headcount in the legal department, or redistributing business responsibilities to create an opening for a pro bono professional within the existing headcount. Additionally, legal departments want to be mindful of striking the right balance so as not to concentrate so much responsibility and ownership for the pro bono program in the pro bono professional that it diminishes volunteers’ engagement in the pro bono program.

Will dedicated pro bono professionals become more prevalent in the next generation of in-house pro bono leaders? CPBO will continue to follow these developments in the coming year.

To learn more about management of in-house pro bono programs please contact CPBO.

July 30, 2019

Human Trafficking and the Power of Pro Bono

“When we look at human trafficking, we always
think that it’s far away from us.”

Du Yun

Human trafficking is a global problem but has significant domestic presence in the United States. The volume of human trafficking cases around the world remains astonishingly high and significant complexities exist in identifying victims, obtaining recourse, and understanding the issue. As defined by the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is a crime involving the use of force, fraud, or coercion to lure a victim into forced labor or sexual exploitation. It is a global problem affecting every country, including the United States. The International Labor Organization estimates that 24.9 million adults and children across the globe are subjected to human trafficking each year.

At PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference, a panel of experts and practitioners examined the ways pro bono lawyers can be of assistance to those affected by human trafficking through supporting survivors, spearheading critical research, prosecuting offenders, and seeking reparation and damages on behalf of survivors. Betsy Hutson, one of the panelists, was our guest on a recent episode of the Pro Bono Happy Hour. Hutson, a litigator at McGuireWoods*†, has maintained an active pro bono practice focusing on assisting human trafficking survivors. Her work representing Kendra Ross, a victim trafficked within the United States for 10 years as an unpaid laborer, led to an award of $8 million in damages — the largest sum awarded to a trafficking victim in the country. Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to

The Misconceptions of Human Trafficking

As Hutson discussed in MarketWatch and on our podcast, trafficking is obscured by a number of myths. Human trafficking is not the same crime as smuggling and young girls are not the only victims. Moreover, it can be challenging to identify victims of human trafficking. Victims are not necessarily held in locks and chains, and they are commonly reluctant to receive help. They are often not readily apparent or visible to the outside world as the force, fraud, and coercion required to establish a trafficking claim can take many forms.

Resolving human trafficking cases can be tough, not only due to the challenges in identifying victims but also the complications leading to inadequate prosecutions. Many trafficked individuals suffer psychological trauma so great that they are unable to ask for help or even identify themselves as victims. After removal from the situation, a trafficking survivor might be reluctant to participate in an investigation for a variety of reasons, such as fear, shame, a lack of understanding that they have been trafficked, and an emotional attachment to the trafficker. It often proves difficult for survivors to “articulate the complexities of fear, dependence, loyalty, and the myriad of other conflicting emotions that influenced them to remain with their traffickers.”

The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Pro Bono Work

This continued crisis requires large-scale awareness and institutional efforts to combat. The law has served as a central avenue for supporting survivors of human trafficking, as attorneys can represent trafficked people in multiple ways: litigating to obtain recourse for survivors, vacating criminal convictions related to trafficking, providing immigration representation, and more. Over the years, large law firms have provided a variety of pro bono services in this space and even established dedicated, ongoing projects, working with nonprofits like the Human Trafficking Legal Center and Sanctuary for Families to secure justice for survivors. Pro bono projects have included representing survivors seeking to reclaim their lives; conducting research on important trafficking legal issues; and advising and counseling nonprofit organizations serving survivors.

Here are some examples of pro bono work done by major law firms to combat human trafficking:

  • In 2018, attorneys at Duane Morris*† successfully vacated twenty-five criminal convictions for a trafficking survivor, who was trafficked as a teen following a turbulent childhood. The survivor faced deportation to the Dominican Republic and separation from her three children due to misdemeanor criminal convictions which were the direct result of her being trafficked. Due to the efforts of Duane Morris she became free to stabilize her immigration status and provide for her children.
  • In 2017, Weil, Gotshal & Manges*† resolved a novel legal issue and set precedent for trafficking survivors nationwide. A team of attorneys at the firm’s Miami office secured an order from a Florida state court expunging the convictions of a domestic trafficking victim who acted as a “bottom,” forced to recruit and victimize other women in addition to prostituting herself. With assistance from the Legal Aid Society of New York, the Weil attorneys successfully represented the survivor in her petition for expunction. She became the first human trafficking “bottom” to receive expunction in Florida, and likely the whole nation.

From directly assisting survivors to conducting research and policy advocacy, pro bono lawyers can play a large role in actively securing justice for survivors of human trafficking. While many law firms have done notable pro bono work to combat human trafficking, much more can be done. By continuing to establish long-term anti-trafficking pro bono projects and formal partnerships with nonprofits, firms can increase the scale of their impact in the fight against human trafficking.

Have you done pro bono work related to human trafficking? Please reach out to us at and share your experience.

Hat tip to PBI intern Kyle Pham for his significant assistance.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

June 20, 2019

Pro Bono Rules! How Policies Can Expand Or Impede Pro Bono

Ethical rules and pro bono policies in each state can either ease the way for attorneys seeking to provide pro bono legal services or erect road blocks in their path. With studies showing that approximately 80% of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are unaddressed, how do we structure our laws, rules, and policies to encourage and cultivate a broader commitment to pro bono?

Determining which statewide practices can best harness pro bono resources is a topic of important research. In a recent article, Professor Latonia Haney Keith discussed the consensus among pro bono leaders that implementing policies that expand the pool of potential pro bono attorneys rather than those that encourage a deeper commitment from attorneys who already engage in pro bono service is a best practice. Among the rules Haney Keith identified as top practices for engaging new pro bono volunteers are ABA Model Rule 6.1, which encourages lawyers to contribute at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services annually, and ABA Model Rule 1.2(c), which formally permits unbundling of legal services or limited scope representation.

To facilitate access and understanding of the many rules that impact pro bono participation, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) recently developed an ethics resource, the “Guide to Select Rules for Pro Bono Practice,” that  provides an overview of select rules of professional responsibility and other policies that apply to pro bono legal services by attorneys in the United States. CPBO consulted with the National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) and the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono in developing this resource. The resource also includes a comprehensive chart providing an overview of requirements in all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia, with links to underlying CPBO and ABA resources for more detailed information. (Attorneys should always consult the rules in their jurisdictions for more information.)

The rules covered in CPBO’s Guide include:

  • Pro bono practice rules for non-locally licensed in-house counsel;
  • Pro bono practice rules for out-of-state attorneys;
  • Pro bono practice rules for retired, inactive, or other “emeritus” attorneys;
  • Rules permitting pro bono legal services by non-locally licensed attorneys following the determination of a major disaster;
  • Rules counting pro bono service hours toward mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements;
  • Rules requiring reporting of pro bono hours;
  • Rules setting forth an aspirational goal for pro bono hours;
  • Rules easing the restrictions on conflict checks for clinics and similar pro bono opportunities; and
  • Rules permitting short-term, limited scope legal services.

CPBO’s Guide discusses each of the above categories of rules and how they can facilitate or restrict provision of pro bono service.

Two recent conferences provided an opportunity to learn about pro bono policies with the experts. In March, PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference featured a session on “Ethics: Top Ten Pro Bono Policies for Access to Justice,” facilitated by Professor Haney Keith, Cheryl Zalenski, Director of the ABA’s Center for Pro Bono, and Alyssa Saunders, Assistant Director of Corporate Pro Bono. In May, Zalenski, Saunders, and Jamie Gamble, Senior Counsel and Director of NCAJ’s Justice Index Project, facilitated a session on “Top Ten Best State Laws & Policies for Pro Bono” at the 2019 Equal Justice Conference, hosted by the ABA and National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA).

To learn more about CPBO’s initiative on the Ethics of In-House Pro Bono, please visit our website or contact

June 17, 2019

Your One-Stop Shop For Access to Justice: New Nonprofit Center Dedicated to the Philadelphia Legal Aid Community

A group of civil legal aid nonprofits have joined together in Philadelphia to construct a long-term solution for cost savings, reinvestment into programming, and collaboratively serving the region’s clients. Scheduled to begin construction later this year, the Philadelphia Equal Justice Center is a nonprofit, social-purpose center designed to house civil legal aid and social services organizations under one roof as a one-stop shop for legal aid, with the lofty goal of serving as an efficient model for communities throughout the U.S. and perhaps the world.

The “EJC” is a pioneering concept. While nonprofit centers have operated successfully in other industries, this location will be the first mission-driven building with the core focus of equal access to justice. It is anticipated that tens of thousands of people will walk through the doors of the EJC every year and thousands more will be served through the work and services provided by its tenants. The Philadelphia Bar Foundation, which has helped foster and support a number of civil legal aid organizations in its more than 50-year history, is spearheading the effort with a $50 million fundraising campaign.

Entering into the building will provide the public with a single intake point, much like an emergency room at a hospital provides a single-entry point to triage immediate healthcare needs. Help is only an elevator ride away.

“Consider the day when the EJC opens and most of these diverse legal services are under one roof: senior law services down the hall from specialists in immigration services, a child advocacy attorney encountering a women’s rights attorney and having a casual conversation that results in the improved service delivery to a single mother and her children. These outcomes are the ideal for legal service collaboration and the EJC will bring this ideal to our community,” said Jessica Hilburn-Holmes, the Executive Director of the Bar Foundation.

Hilburn-Holmes explained that “Pro bono clients often have interlocking problems that can involve health, education, child welfare, housing, homelessness, and civil rights violations. People who don’t have a car, who are raising a family, who are working one or two low-wage jobs – they lack the time and resources needed to get from one agency to another. Too often, a client with multiple legal problems will reach out to a program that is not best equipped to serve them, forcing multiple stops, which takes precious time and, in some instances, duplicates services.”

Since the EJC will house multiple providers with different expertise, it allows lawyers from different organizations the opportunity to collaborate, not only in service of individual clients but also in developing systems and strategies to more effectively advocate for equal justice.

Collaboration between the for-profit legal community, law schools, and the non-profit community is always better for the general outcome of raising awareness for legal aid services and engagement. The city’s larger legal community could now have a central hub at the EJC as a resource to learn about pro bono opportunities, public interest awards and fellowships, and the current pressing legal aid advocacy issues.

The Foundation reports that tenants at EJC can expect to reduce operating costs by up to 20 percent due to back office consolidation. They will also enjoy the unheard-of fixed rent amount of $15 per square foot for 30 years, after which the debt is paid off, and there will be no rent for the inaugural tenants. This project aims to inspire similar models and Hilburn-Holmes hopes that it will change how legal aid and social services are delivered in communities across the country. The building is expected to open in 2022. Stay tuned as developments unfold!

To learn more, visit

June 13, 2019

A First: Law Firm Pro Bono Annual Hours Exceed Five Million

Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project has issued its 2018 Report on the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Initiative. Firms reported performing a total of 5,070,533 hours of pro bono work in 2018 – an increase over 2017. This is the first time signatories have collectively exceeded the 5 million hours mark since the implementation of the Challenge in 1995.

The Challenge Report examines the pro bono performance of firms that are signatories to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge initiative during the 2018 calendar year. Signatories have committed to contribute 3 or 5 percent of their annual billable hours (or, at a few firms, 60 or 100 hours per attorney) to pro bono activities as defined by the Challenge, and report their performance to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project each year.

Law firm pro bono is “stable,” which is good news. There are several highlights to be celebrated:

  • The number of hours reported are increasing, which indicates not only sustainability, but that pro bono has permeated as a core value. One hundred twenty-eight firms reported in 2018, performing an aggregated total of 5,070,533 hours of pro bono work, approximately 82,000 hours more than in 2017, when 129 firms reported an aggregated total of 4,988,525 hours of pro bono work.
  • When the Challenge was launched in 1993 and implemented in 1995, one fundamental goal was to encourage more than half of a firm’s attorneys to participate in pro bono, an ambitious objective at that time. In 2018, the combined attorney participation rate for partners and associates was 76.55%.
  • In 2018, the total amount of charitable giving to legal services organizations increased 15 percent over 2017.  Firm donations increased to $25.9 million, up from $22.5 million from last year.
  • Sixty-eight percent of all pro bono time was devoted to those of limited means and organizations serving them. Collectively, signatories are meeting the Challenge commitment to devote a “majority” of their pro bono time to people of limited means.

Law Firm Pro Bono Project Director Reena Glazer said, “Behind every data point is a story. Eclipsing the 5 million hours mark is a significant accomplishment. Let’s build on the successes documented in this year’s Challenge Report and continue to devote meaningful time, energy, and resources to providing pro bono services and access to justice for all.”

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the implementation of the Challenge. A look back provides additional perspective: the first data collection from 1995 yielded information from 135 Challenge signatories, who reported 1.6 million pro bono hours and an average of 53.3 pro bono hours per attorney. In 2018, 128 Challenge signatories reported 5 million pro bono hours and an average of 64.3 pro bono hours per attorney. We’ve come a long way! Many thanks to all of our signatories who are supporting broad participation in pro bono at their firms and making meaningful efforts to promote access to justice for all.   

Fast Facts

Challenge goals that were met or exceeded in 2018:

  • The 5 million hours of pro bono work represents an all-time high, eclipsing previous bests of 4.9 million in 2009 and 2017.
  • The percentage of partners engaging in pro bono was 67.4 percent and participation of associates was 85.1 percent. Combined attorney participation was 76.5 percent overall.
  • Pro bono hours as a percentage of total paying client billable hours remained strong, at 3.8 percent in 2018.

Read the full report, or the summary report.

Interested in your firm becoming a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge signatory?  Find out how.

Have a question about “what counts” as pro bono legal services under the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Statement of Principles and Challenge Commentary? We have a great resource for you!

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.

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