The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It


October 18, 2012

Promoting a Barrier-Free and Inclusive World

Disability rights issues are fertile ground for lawyers, law firms, and legal departments looking to develop or expand their pro bono practice.  The range of opportunities is broad and deep, with options for both small and large-scale projects and those that would appeal to litigators and non-litigators alike.  Through a variety of pro bono engagements and partnerships with advocacy organizations, pro bono lawyers can have significant and meaningful impact while being at the forefront of cutting-edge legal efforts.  More than 20 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, there is still more work to be done to fight discrimination and promote equal access, independence, opportunity, and freedom from abuse and neglect.

An impressive majority of Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member Firms and Challenge® Signatories are devoting pro bono efforts to individuals with disabilities and groups that serve them.  A few inspiring examples include:

  • Arnold & Porter LLP*† represented inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) and the Hunt Correctional Center who suffered from mental illnesses of varying types and degrees. The lawsuit alleged that the state failed to meet the minimum constitutional and legal standards in the delivery of mental health services and the treatment of mentally ill inmates. A settlement agreement was eventually reached, which required the state to revise more than 50 basic mental health policies, to implement a comprehensive set of mental health reform policies, and to allow a nationally recognized health expert to monitor and report on state compliance with these reform policies in the two institutions.
  • Working with the Learning Rights Law Center, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP*† achieved a precedent-setting victory for a high school student living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, who was denied full access to her school’s campus due to her disability. The student could not ascend or descend stairs due to a genetic progressive neurological disorder and was not permitted to use her high school’s elevator without a chaperone. Her requests for an elevator key were repeatedly denied by school officials. With the help of Manatt, the student filed suit against the local school district for violations under the ADA, asking the Court to enjoin the school to provide her with an elevator key. Ultimately, the Court ruled in favor of the student, determining that she was excluded from school activities on the basis of her disability.
  • Morrison & Foerster LLP*† prevailed on behalf of a child with autism against the Anchorage, Alaska, school district for failing to provide him an appropriate education.  Follow this success, the school district agreed to fully fund the child’s education throughout his school years and to repay his parents for the costs incurred because the district did not follow the law.
  • A team from DLA Piper LLP*† provided support to a coalition of leading disability, human rights, and community organizations to prepare a landmark report on the lived experience of people with disabilities in Australia.  The Disability Rights Now report follows three years of community consultation and research and makes 130 recommendations to the United Nations Disability Committee.  DLA Piper facilitated consultations in each State and Territory in Australia and assisted in drafting the report.  The United Nations Disability Committee will undertake its review of Australia in Geneva in 2013.

Be sure to check out the Law Firm Project’s new publication Spotlight on Pro Bono and Disability Rights which is available (free for Law Firm Project Members and to all others to purchase) from our Resource Clearinghouse.  This report showcases many of these innovative and impactful pro bono initiatives.

The PBEye hopes that you will be inspired and get involved.  There is an opportunity to suit the interests and talents of many pro bono lawyers!

Is your firm engaged in an innovative pro bono project that promotes inclusion and disability rights?  Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

June 12, 2012

In-House Pro Bono in England & Wales

Many legal departments are interested in global pro bono, but fewer have global programs due to real and perceived challenges.  The PBEye knows that one of the biggest challenges is a lack of information about opportunities and regulations in different countries.   To help in-house attorneys leap this hurdle,  DLA Piper LLP* recently published the England and Wales In-House Counsel Pro Bono Guide, which provides in-house lawyers with tools and information to establish or expand a pro bono program in those jurisdictions.

The guide offers insight into dealing with common obstacles such as indemnity insurance, cost agreements, and identifying the most appropriate projects.  To help legal departments avoid these complications, DLA Piper lists partnering opportunities through which legal departments can join established pro bono projects.  For departments interested in starting a program, the guide includes a sample pro bono policy that departments can modify to reflect their needs and goals.

We are excited to see this new global pro bono resource for legal departments.  And, interested departments (and law firms) can learn more about pro bono in 42 jurisdictions by reviewing “A Survey of Pro Bono Practices and Opportunities in Selected Jurisdictions,” which was prepared by Latham & Watkins LLP* for PBI.   As always, PBI’s Global Pro Bono Project is another resource that offers consultative services, research, publications and more.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

October 12, 2011

VIDEO: Broadening the Bench: Involving Non-Attorneys

Law firms and legal departments are made up of a lot of people – many of whom may not be lawyers.  Involving paralegals; librarians; compliance specialists; marketing staff; policy, science, human resources, and information technology experts; and other non-lawyer staff in your pro bono efforts is one way to effectively increase your pro bono practice and serve more clients.  In order for non-lawyers to successfully contribute to your pro bono efforts: (1) the culture of your firm or organization must support non-lawyer participation; (2) non-lawyers must be informed and made aware of relevant pro bono opportunities; (3) you should cater to non-lawyer abilities and interests; and (4) non-lawyers must be adequately trained and supervised, so that they can have a meaningful experience.

Last year, at our Annual Conference, our friend Cheryl Naja, pro bono-community service manager at Alston & Bird LLP*†, inspired attendees with one visionary and creative way that the firm has been able to involve non-lawyers.  Naja saw a unique opportunity to assist the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline, which had to cut staff following budget cuts in 2009.  Faced with splitting the hotline’s staff attorney time between representing clients and monitoring hotline calls, Alston & Bird put its receptionists to work doing intake for the hotline.  The program allows the firm’s non-lawyer staff to make a meaningful contribution while giving legal services attorneys more time to help their clients.  Naja explains the program in more detail in the video below.

We are delighted to report that last month, Alston & Bird was honored with a Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta 2011 IMPACT Award in recognition of this program and the contributions it makes to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Georgia Legal Services Program.  This innovative model could – and should – be replicated by firms around the country.

How are you engaging your non-lawyer staff and leveraging their skills in support of pro bono projects?  Leave a comment and share your creative ideas.  To learn more about involving non-lawyers in pro bono, email Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Mary Baroch to request a copy of the Project’s publication “Broadening the Bench: Involving Non-Lawyer Staff in Law Firm Pro Bono.”

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

July 14, 2011

More Summer Reading: Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops

We’ve come across an interesting new article that has intriguing implications for law firm pro bono.  Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops in the July issue of Wired explores how we can create subtle reminders that encourage us to do better.  The idea of a feedback loop is simple: give people information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions, encouraging them to improve their behaviors.

A feedback loop involves four stages:

1.  Behavior must be measured, captured, and stored.  As they say, you can’t change what you don’t measure.  This is the “evidence” stage. 
2.  The information is related – not in raw-data form – but in a context that makes it meaningful.  This is the “relevance” stage. 
3.  The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead – there must be a link to some larger goal or purpose.  This is the “consequence” stage. 
4.  There must be a moment when behavior is recalibrated and a choice is made.  This is the “action” stage.

“Your Speed” signs (aha, the picture makes sense now!) leverage a feedback loop.  They are an effective tool for changing behavior by providing people with real-time information and giving them an opportunity to change.

Action.  Information.  Reaction. This reminds us of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®.   Signatory Firms perform and record their pro bono work over the course of a year.  They report their results to the Law Firm Pro Bono Project, so we can analyze the data and place it in context.  Our annual Challenge Report provides meaningful information along with a sense of what firms can do with that information to create new pro bono opportunities and improve their performance over the following year.

Feedback loops, like the Challenge, work because they are how we learn.  Trial by error?  A course correction?  In order to succeed we need to have some sense of where we stand and some way to evaluate our progress.

For more information about becoming a Signatory to the Challenge, please contact us at

Do you have any other pro bono-related summer reading recommendations?  We’d love to hear from you.

July 7, 2011

15 Ways to Boost Your Firm’s Pro Bono Hours

Based on the results of the recently released PBI Challenge Report, it may be helpful to carefully assess your firm’s pro bono program to indentify what’s working and what’s not.  For those firms with pro bono time lagging behind past years or falling short of your firm’s goals, or those looking to build on previous success and improve their firm’s pro bono performance, here are some tips that might help you reinvigorate your pro bono program, increase pro bono hours, and improve program visibility:

1. Maximize your pro bono timekeeping;

2. Credit pro bono time – and show you mean it;

3. Report results to the firm;

4. Reassess your pro bono program;

5. Cater to your attorneys’ pro bono interests;

6. Create a firm-wide pro bono project;

7. Accept a major litigation matter;

8. Schedule your attorneys’ pro bono commitment;

9. Establish a firm-sponsored rotation/externship program;

10. Hire dedicated pro bono staff;

11. Involve summer associates;

12. Involve first-year associates and experienced/transitioning attorneys;

13. Develop a mentoring system and a team;

14. Establish a pro bono award; and

15. Contact the Law Firm Pro Bono Project for confidential consulting – and sign on to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

Read more about each of these tips in the PBI publication: “15 Ways to Boost Your Firm’s Pro Bono Hours.”  Law Firm Pro Bono Project Members can receive this publication free of charge.  Contact Mary Baroch, Law Firm Pro Bono Project assistant, to request a copy.

What methods to increase pro bono hours have worked successfully at your firm?  Leave us a comment below.

June 22, 2011

Coming Soon: Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Report

The Pro Bono Institute will be releasing its report on the 2010 pro bono performance of Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory Firms next week. With 138 of the nation’s largest law firms reporting their pro bono statistics for last year to the Pro Bono Institute, we are able to provide an accurate picture of the law firm pro bono landscape. This year’s numbers offer an interesting perspective on how large firms are institutionalizing pro bono in firm culture.

Each year PBI’s report examines the hours of pro bono performed by attorneys in large law firms, the level of participation by partners and associates, service to persons of limited means and organizations serving those of limited means, and charitable giving to legal services organizations, among other topics. The PBEye is anxious to see how firms have fared in light of the global economic crisis, reduced headcounts, associate anxiety, and an uneven recovery admid other concerns that have faced firms since 2008. Historically, we know that pro bono has been impacted in the years following a downturn in the economy, but that it remains a critical part of firm culture.

We got a glimpse in to what may be included in the 2010 report when the Law Firm Pro Bono Project conducted a mid-year survey of firms’ 2010 numbers. At that time, we learned that some firms were experiencing a dip in pro bono participation, while others remained steady or increased. In 2009, 134 of the nation’s law firms performed 4,867,820 hours of pro bono work, which amounted to an increase of nearly 24,000 hours from 2008. That year, firms donated 2,962,028 hours of pro bono service to individuals of limited means or organizations serving them, more than 60 percent of total pro bono hours, as compared to 3,761,722 hours (77 percent of total pro bono hours) in 2008. This decline in providing service to individuals of limited means was likely a result of the deep cuts at public interest organizations and the resulting impact on those organizations’ abilities to screen clients and effectively utilize pro bono resources. Both 2008 and 2009 were record-breaking years for pro bono service, demonstrating that even when times are tough, attorneys are committed to pitching in for the greater good.

Stay tuned for the complete 2010 results coming soon in the full report, next week.  To view the 2009 Challenge Report, click here.

How has your firm fared? Share your thoughts on pro bono hours and participation in the comments below.

April 28, 2011

Four Firms Collaborate with Appleseed on New Report

This week our friends at Appleseed released the report: Children at the Border:  the Screening, Protection, and Repatriation of Unaccompanied Mexican Minors, which exposes noncompliance with the 2008 federal Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).  TVPRA, which was intended to prevent human trafficking and exploitation, has not been fully implemented or followed at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Mexican children unaccompanied by an adult are often shuttled back across the border without protection or proper care.  As a result, thousands of children are needlessly exposed to human trafficking by drug cartels and criminal gangs, or repatriated to potentially abusive and dangerous situations without having a reasonable chance to assert their rights to protection.

Appleseed’s investigation reveals that unaccompanied minors are routinely misinformed about their rights to make an asylum claim and appear before a judge.  In addition, the TVPRA screenings are not being conducted in a manner or in environments that would indicate whether the minor is a potential victim of trafficking or abuse.  The manner of interviewing minors doesn’t allow them to make a truly “voluntary” choice about whether to return to Mexico.

The report makes recommendations to significantly reduce the risks that these children face. To read these recommendations, download a full copy of the report here.

A team of 32 pro bono lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP*, DLA Piper LLP*, Mayer Brown LLP*, and the Mexican firm Jáuregui, Navarrete y Nader S.C. spent two years investigating these border injustices, making 14 site visits in the U.S. and Mexico.

Has your firm collaborated on pro bono matters? Leave a comment and let us know.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

April 28, 2011

Did You See This Month’s Wire?

The April edition of The Pro Bono Wire is out, and it’s chock-full of information you won’t want to miss! 

  • In the latest “Letter From Esther,” she discusses the Seminar/Forum and how it’s going to shape the work of the Pro Bono Institute moving forward. 
  • The Law Firm Pro Bono Project offers two great resources for Member Firms: informational programming for summer associates and the new publication, Talent Management Trends: Law Firm Core Competencies and Pro Bono
  • We’ve got remarks from Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg honoring Judge Robert A. Katzmann, and his acceptance speech from the 2011 Seminar/Forum Reception, which are not to be missed!
  • And check out two new faces at PBI . . . Shannon Graving and Julia Alanen.

Are you missing The Wire in your inbox?  Click here to subscribe.

April 22, 2011

Coming Soon! Talent Management for Law Firm Pro Bono

Just in time for our spring reading list, the Law Firm Pro Bono Project is set to release a new toolkit offering guidance and tips for using pro bono opportunities as part of any core competency and performance evaluation system.

In the aftermath of the economic downturn, numerous large law firms have reevaluated their attorney management strategies.  Many of the nation’s largest and most prominent firms have announced that they transitioned away from the “lockstep” model and turned to one focused on core competencies.  Associates are now required to master certain delineated skills in order to advance in salary, billing rate, and seniority.  The hands-on experience pro bono work provides is especially invaluable to this evolving model.  Developmental pro bono assignments, or targeting pro bono work to develop skills, are particularly effective ways for attorneys to develop and demonstrate many of the “hard” and “soft” skills outlined in any core competency model.  Experience has shown that the kinds of matters that an attorney works on today may be very different from those one works on five or ten years from now, and pro bono can offer opportunities to acquire skills that complement the mix and volume of commercial work at the firm at any given time.  Strategic linking of pro bono assignments with professional development opportunities and thoughtful performance evaluations offers tremendous value both to law firm pro bono supporters and professional development leadership.

This publication, available free of charge to Member Law Firms, will be a valuable resource for law firm partners and professional development staff, including training, assignment, and evaluations committees, who should be mindful of how they can utilize developmental pro bono opportunities to boost their implementation of core competencies and performance evaluations in a cost-effective manner.  Likewise, the publication has been designed as a resource for pro bono responsible staff, who should be aligning their outreach and intake efforts to build core competencies, and satisfy attorney development goals.  The successful integration of pro bono and professional development can serve the dual good of assisting indigent clients and promoting access to justice while fostering the growth and training of firm attorneys.

How does your firm use pro bono to develop attorneys’ skills?  Has your firm mapped competencies and skills specific to pro bono matters?  Send us any material you’ve developed and/or leave us a comment below.

Do you want access to this exciting resource? Learn more about how you can become a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project.

March 31, 2011

New Global Pro Bono Publication Available

Be sure to check out a newly posted publication on PBI’s website that highlights global pro bono opportunities: “A Survey of Pro Bono Practices and Opportunities in Selected Jurisdictions.”

This survey was newly updated in September 2010, but goes back to an initiative of PBI and Latham & Watkins LLP* from 2005 to make information about global pro bono more accessible.  You can learn more about what access to justice or publicly funded legal aid programs exist, remaining unmet needs for legal representation, perceptions and culture shaping the discussion of pro bono, and what professional-conduct laws and rules provide the framework for pro bono representation in 42 jurisdictions in Europe, Asia and the Pacific region, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East.  The survey is part of an ongoing effort, shared by many law firms, organizations, and corporate legal departments, to promote and stimulate the growth of pro bono representation globally and in international settings.

For attorneys who are interested in discovering local pro bono opportunities in their firm’s specific international location(s), or for firms seeking to initiate international pro bono opportunities, this publication is an excellent resource.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®