The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
May 3, 2012

Improving Partner Participation: Part 2

Is your law firm struggling with a culture that treats pro bono as exclusively “associate work”?  As we reported last week, it is critical to gain and maintain meaningful participation from partners.   Whether it is in a hands-on or supervisory role, partner participation demonstrates that pro bono is a vital part of the firm and ensures that pro bono clients receive high-quality service.

Wondering how best to engage partners at your firm? We’ve got you covered!  Here are some additional helpful hints and best practices for achieving significant partner involvement and successfully addressing obstacles to partner participation:

  • Visible and meaningful leadership support, at all levels (chairs and managing partners, executive committee members, practice group and office heads) is crucial.  Pressure from the top may help motivate and reinforce partner involvement; however associates who make a pitch for a project can also engage the partners with whom they already work or would like to work.
  • Partners may be especially hesitant to engage in projects that extend beyond their areas of expertise.  Arrange trainings (for CLE credit) to provide your partners with sufficient background knowledge.  Partners may also be hesitant due to time constraints; consider team staffing and offer discrete and time-limited opportunities.
  • Consider aligning pro bono with mentoring, training, recruiting, marketing, and firm goals.  For example, if the firm is launching a new robust mentoring program, a partner-mentor could supervise their associate-mentee on a pro bono matter to enhance their relationship and be in a better position to evaluate first-hand the associate’s skills.
  • Not all partners are monolithic.  Take into account the different needs and circumstances of all firm partners (junior partners; income partners; equity partners; part-time partners; lateral partners; and senior partners preparing for retirement).
  • Success breeds success. Be patient.  Start by targeting a few partners and let the culture of pro bono grow along with the visible success and involvement.
  • Corporate clients and the courts have played useful roles in motivating and reinforcing partner involvement.
  • Think long term.  Start with new associates; if they are encouraged to do pro bono from day one, it will become second nature, which they will maintain when they become partners.

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