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Pro Bono As We See It

Law Firm Pro Bono

September 21, 2017

Pro Bono Innovation and Evaluation

We are constantly amazed and inspired by the brilliant pro bono work being done every day to improve and save lives. Despite the passion and generosity of pro bono lawyers, we continue to confront a persistent access to justice crisis. In response, the legal community has been experimenting with innovative approaches to close the justice gap. A key component of innovation, however, must be evaluation.

Our friend Jonathan Asher of Colorado Legal Services once said that the problem with legal assistance is that it has “too many uncritical lovers and too many unloving critics.” Now more than ever, pro bono needs critical lovers: people who are sufficiently committed to pro bono and access to justice to ask hard questions about the efficacy of our efforts. We must be prepared to take an open and honest look at what impact our pro bono efforts are having with rigorous and unbiased assessment and a profound willingness to change anything that isn’t working well.

Limited-scope programs are innovations that have been accompanied by evaluations, which provide insight on the many facets of pro bono programs and the legal system. Evaluative studies have involved feedback from clients, participating attorneys, program coordinators, and judges. They have used a variety of methodologies, including paper surveys, phone calls, in-person interviews, focus groups, and case file reviews. While studies have evaluated various services and utilized different methodologies, they are unanimous on the value of feedback and evaluation.

One example of an innovative limited-scope initiative that has incorporated meaningful evaluation is New York City’s Volunteer Lawyer for the Day program (VLFD). Pro bono lawyers provide a single day of assistance to litigants, helping them navigate court appearances and settlement conferences. The program began with a pilot of fifty cases in a single housing court, and incorporated extensive feedback from clients, participating attorneys, and the presiding judge. This feedback revealed some of the common stumbling blocks unrepresented litigants face in housing court. For example, most of the VLFD clients did not know that disrepair was a defense in eviction hearings, nor were they aware that the court could order a landlord to make necessary repairs. Once the pro bono lawyers presented these options, many tenants avoided eviction and had their homes repaired to a habitable standard. After such a successful pilot, the program was expanded and made permanent. Today, VLFD attorneys assist litigants in housing and consumer debt cases throughout the City.

Another study evaluated the effectiveness of legal advice hotlines. Hotlines provide callers with legal advice and sometimes brief services. Clients of several different hotlines were surveyed by phone, and had their case files reviewed by lawyers to determine whether they achieved a “favorable” outcome. The results were positive: when clients understood and acted upon the hotlines’ advice, they almost always prevailed. A caller’s comprehension and subsequent actions are critical predicates for positive results. The study found that hotlines could enhance client understanding, which is often lacking, by engaging in a single follow-up communication – either placing a second phone call or mailing an information sheet. By adopting this strategy, hotlines could significantly improve their efficacy without making large investments of time or resources.

As pro bono leaders innovate to close the justice gap, evaluation of efforts is crucial. Every pro bono program could and should benefit from continuous improvement, retooling, and rethinking. Assessments spur further innovation by revealing cost-effective strategies and other ideas to improve the delivery of legal services. Also, positive feedback demonstrates and confirms the value of pro bono efforts and builds support among stakeholders and decision-makers. We cannot afford to be complacent or rest on our laurels. As pro bono fans, we must also critically examine our initiatives. The clients who desperately need our help deserve no less.

Hat tip to PBI intern Madeline B. Jenks for her help with this post.

September 18, 2017

It’s Pro Bono Podcast Monday: A Conversation with Greg McConnell (Part 2)

“What does it mean to build a culture of pro bono?” In the continuation of our conversation with Greg McConnell  of Winston & Strawn*†, we explore how pro bono is “more than winning” and how he, his pro bono team, and firm leadership took the program from “good” to “excellent,” including integrating pro bono into its firm-wide strategic plan. Take 40 minutes to listen to part two of our conversation with Greg on the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour. If you missed part one, it is available on Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review! We’d appreciate the feedback and it would help us expand the conversation about pro bono and access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to probono@probonoinst.org. Be warned: we might just read them on the air.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

 

September 14, 2017

Pro Bono Happy Hour Podcast, Special Edition: DACA

PBI recently released a special edition of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour, in response to the cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President and CEO Eve Runyon also released a statement about PBI’s support for our stakeholders who are providing legal assistance to DACA recipients and other immigrants.

In this episode, we talk with Chris Marquardt of Alston & Bird*†, David March of the Minnesota Corporate Pro Bono Council, and Liz Markuci of Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) about the impacts the cancellation of DACA will have on immigrant communities and their own personal experiences and reflections. They also offer meaningful ways that pro bono attorneys can get involved and be of assistance right now. Take 35 minutes to listen to our conversation.

Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review. We’d appreciate the feedback and it would help us expand the conversation about pro bono and access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

 

September 11, 2017

It’s Pro Bono Podcast Monday: A Conversation with Greg McConnell

Winston & Strawn*†’s Greg McConnell speaks with PBI on this week’s Pro Bono Happy Hour podcast  about his career path, leading a mission-driven pro bono program, and how he and his team use a “seven-second” rule to get the attention of busy attorneys. Greg describes the satisfying double-boost of serving both pro bono clients and attorneys and how he and his team make it as easy as possible at the firm to do pro bono. He discusses the firm’s recently-created Corporate Social Responsibility Officer position and the professionalization of law firm pro bono. Take 40 minutes to listen to part one of our conversation with Greg. Don’t forget to tune in again on Thursday to catch the conclusion of our conversation.

Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review! We’d appreciate the feedback and it would help us expand the conversation about pro bono and access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to probono@probonoinst.org. Be warned: we might just read them on the air.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

 

September 7, 2017

Join Today!

Over 100 law firms have become Law Firm Pro Bono Project members for 2017-2018.  These firms have publically demonstrated their leadership and commitment to pro bono and access to justice.

As a member firm, you will have exclusive access to resources to help ensure the health and vitality of your pro bono program, such as expert  (confidential) consultative services; discounted registration for every individual from your firm attending the PBI Annual Conference; free webinars; and access to the Project’s members-only section of our Resource Clearinghouse. Our customized advice can help your firm develop or restructure its pro bono governance and staffing, engage in strategic planning, establish a pro bono project with a corporate client, enhance your use of pro bono as a training, professional development, and retention tool, and more. Check out our member benefits page for details on these and other valuable benefits.

Submit your firm’s enrollment form by mail or join online:

Please contact Law Firm Project Assistant Elysse DeRita, if you have any questions.

We look forward to welcoming your law firm as a member soon!

August 31, 2017

A Salute to Laborers

Labor Day is often spent as the last relaxing Monday before jumping into a new school year and saying goodbye to long, warm summer nights. Yet, it is important to take a moment to recognize the significance of this holiday; it honors the American Labor Movement and all the contributions that workers have made to the prosperity, strength, and well-being of this country.

Although immense progress has been made, many work environments are far from perfect. Racism, discrimination, and the wage-gap persist. Pro bono lawyers have a critical role to play in protecting workers’ rights and helping workers secure fairer wages, benefits, schedules, hours, safer conditions, and equality for all in the workplace. Inspiring, recent examples of labor and employment-related pro bono work performed by Law Firm Pro Bono Project member firms and Challenge® signatories include:

  • Covington & Burling,* the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the American Federation of Teachers, represented more than 350 Filipino teachers against a California recruiting firm that lured them to teach in Louisiana public schools, cheated them out of tens of thousands of dollars, and forced them into exploitive contracts. Following a trial against the recruiting firm, the jury awarded $4.5 million in damages.
  • Latham & Watkins*and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee sued Tito Contractors, a Washington, D.C.-area contracting company, on behalf of current and former employees, for failing to pay its employees overtime wages. Most, if not all, of the employees were first or second generation immigrants from Central and South America. The case was litigated over several years and, ultimately, back wages were secured for 25 employees.
  • Munger, Tolles & Olson*†, Public Counsel, and the ACLU obtained a settlement that will protect farm workers and promote agricultural workplace safety in California by improving the enforcement of California’s heat-illness-prevention regulations. As a result, workers now have the ability to report heat regulation violations to the CAL/OSHA under newly established procedures and there will be more robust inspections of outdoor worksites during heat waves.
  • Nutter McClennen & Fish*summer associates, supervised by junior associates, represent eligible clients seeking unemployment compensation in hearings before a Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Division of Unemployment Assistance hearing officer.

Significant progress has been made over the years on behalf of workers, but there is still much to be accomplished – securing a living wage for all, workplace safety, closing the gender pay gap; the list goes on. Let’s be grateful this holiday weekend for the progress we have made, but let’s not be satisfied when there is more to be done.

Hat tip to PBI intern Kelsey Muniz for her help with this post.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® Member

August 21, 2017

It’s Pro Bono Podcast Monday

An experienced immigration attorney in Philadelphia, Valentine Brown leads the pro bono program at Duane Morris*†. She recently spoke with us about the firm’s pro bono work, including efforts on behalf of immigrants, veterans, “juvenile lifers,” and more. Learn what motiviated a pro bono client to write: “My attorneys became and still are my best friends.  They are compassionate human beings, who understand perfectly the intricacies of the law and are aware of the stress that legal proceedings can have on an individual.” Take 45 minutes to listen to PBI’s interview with Valentine on the latest episode of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour.

Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review! We’d appreciate the feedback and it would help us expand the conversation about pro bono and access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to probono@probonoinst.org. Be warned: we might just read them on the air.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

August 17, 2017

Why Pay More?

Dozens of law firms have become Law Firm Pro Bono Project members for 2017-2018.  These firms have publically demonstrated their leadership and commitment to pro bono and access to justice.

As a member firm, you will have exclusive access to resources to help ensure the health and vitality of your pro bono program, such as expert (confidential) consultative services; discounted registration for every individual from your firm attending the PBI Annual Conference; free webinars; and access to the Project’s members-only section of our Resource Clearinghouse. Our customized advice can help your firm develop or restructure its pro bono governance and staffing, engage in strategic planning, establish a pro bono project with a corporate client, enhance your use of pro bono as a training, professional development, and retention tool, and more. Check out our member benefits page for more details on these and other valuable benefits.

Submit your firm’s enrollment form or join online before September 1 to receive a 10% discount:

Please contact Law Firm Project Assistant Elysse DeRita, if you have any questions.

We look forward to welcoming your law firm as a member soon!

August 14, 2017

It’s Pro Bono Podcast Monday

McDermott Will & Emery’s*†  Elizabeth Lewis focuses on the firm’s pro bono and community service initiatives. A “full service law firm,” McDermott’s pro bono program is known for its advocacy for LGBTQ individuals, its work representing Sikh soldiers in practicing their religion through a US Army rules change, and more. Elizabeth, the firm’s Pro Bono and community Service Partner, says she is “inspired by [McDermott] lawyers” and gets to see the good in humanity every day. Take 45 minutes to listen to Elizabeth share some of her special experiences representing children and families on the latest episode of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour. Based in Chicago, she also reveals whether she is a Cubs or White Sox fan.

 Subscribe to the Pro Bono Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review! We’d appreciate the feedback and it would help us expand the conversation about pro bono and access to justice. The podcast is also available on YouTube. Links to all of our episodes can be found here.

Listen along and let us know what you think. Send your comments, thoughts, feedback, questions, and suggestions to probono@probonoinst.org. Be warned: we might just read them on the air.

August 10, 2017

Is Bigger Better?

In June, PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project released its 2016 Report on the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®, which examines the pro bono activities of Challenge signatories.

We’ve previously shared highlights about law firm charitable giving to legal services organizations, pro bono time devoted to those of limited means and attorney participation rates. 2016 marked the second year that we analyzed pro bono performance by firm size. Firms with headcounts of more than 1,000 attorneys had the highest average pro bono percentage in 2016 (4.06%).

We also looked at average pro bono hours per attorney and attorney participation rates by firm size:

We are thankful to all signatories, regardless of headcount, for their service and pro bono leadership.

To learn more about the state of law firm pro bono, check out the complete Challenge Report, including analysis of the data, detailed graphs, and more. Also, tune in to the Law Firm Project’s discussion of the Report and Pro Bono: Beyond the Numbers on its podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour. If your firm of 50 or more lawyers would like to join the Challenge and become visible pro bono leaders, please contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Elysse DeRita.

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