The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It


June 29, 2020

More than 200 legal department leaders call on Congress to fund the Legal Services Corporation

For the fourth year in a row, legal department leaders have rallied in support of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States, following a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to eliminate LSC’s funding for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), invited general counsel and chief legal officers to sign on to a letter advocating for LSC funding for FY2021. 

An impressive group of 204 general counsel and chief legal officers signed on to the June 19, 2020 letter, addressed to All Members of Congress.  GCs and CLOs who lead legal departments of all sizes, representing a wide range of industries, and from locations across the country, joined this effort.  

The support of America’s corporate leaders has made a difference in securing funding for LSC in past years, and their continued support is critically important this year, as the need for civil legal services for low-income Americans continues to grow during the pandemic.  LSC is the cornerstone of ensuring access to justice in the United States, 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. LSC has requested $652.6 million in federal funding for FY2021.

The GCs and CLOs’ letter supporting LSC highlights the need for more funding for LSC to carry out its mission,especially as low-income Americans face the legal consequences of the pandemic. This funding is needed to address the lack of access to justice for many Americans, a “long-simmering problem in the U.S.” 

Last year, a similar effort in response to the budget proposal to eliminate LSC gathered over 260 general counsel and chief legal officers who joined a letter to Congress to support the continued funding of LSC. Following advocacy efforts, Congress and the President ultimately approved a new spending package that increased LSC funding for FY2020.

CPBO is proud to support LSC in this effort to secure funding and thanks the legal department leaders for demonstrating their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services. For more information please contact CPBO at

Read the full letter here.

June 19, 2020

The Cost of Driving in America: Criminalization of Poverty through Fines and Fees

“The biggest problem you’ve probably never heard of affects over 10 million people in the United States.”

Millions of Americans are entangled in a little-publicized, economic and legal catch-22 that impedes their ability to earn a living and meet basic family and personal needs. The problem? Over 11 million driver’s license suspensions across the nation due to unpaid “court debt” (e.g., fines and fees). Take a moment to watch the Fines and Fees Justice Center’s “Free to Drive” national campaign video.

The Issue

Currently forty-four U.S. States and the District of Columbia have laws in place suspending, revoking, or refusing to renew driver’s licenses for those with unpaid fines and fees. While differences in state laws vary, the implications remain the same. In many cases, driver’s license suspensions under these circumstances lead to spiraling repercussions that push recipients ever further into hardship. The inability to drive can result in a loss of income, making it impossible to pay associated fines and fees, leading to even more fines and fees to pay, making it impossible to ever escape a license suspension. Faced with the need to drive to hold a job and generate income or to just obtain essentials, such as food, individuals may be compelled to drive despite a license suspension, thereby by raising the specter of incarceration. As 86% of Americans report driving to work on a daily basis, driving has become a practical necessity for most, especially in areas where public transportation options are scarce. Beyond employment and food, a driver’s license provides accessibility to healthcare, education, court appointments, and loved ones.

Furthermore, the way in which driver’s license suspensions for fines and fees affect people around the United States is highly inequitable. At its crux, suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees criminalizes poverty, punishing those who cannot pay with even more fines, fees, criminal charges, and possible jail time. Driver’s license suspensions under these circumstances also disproportionately impact people of color. A 2018 report by the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School found that 80% of people arrested in New York City for driving with a suspended license were Black or Latino. 

Other Reasons to Be Concerned

Aside from the great burden a driver’s license suspension for unpaid fines and fees poses to recipients, enforcing this method undermines public safety. For example, Washington State law enforcement in 2015 spent approximately 70,848 hours dealing with issues of license suspensions for non-driving related offenses. Spending so much time addressing matters related to unpaid fines and fees ultimately decreases the amount of time and resources devoted to tackling violent crime, as one study found that a mere 1% increase in debt-based revenues—money from fees, fines, and forfeitures—is linked to a 3.7% decrease in solving violent crimes. 

Despite the problems debt-based driver’s license suspensions pose for individuals and the country as a whole, the majority of states still have laws in place that suspend, revoke, or prohibit the renewal of driver’s license for failure to pay fines and fees.

Existing U.S. Laws for Failure to Pay
States with Proposed Legislation Reform of License Suspension, Revocation, or Renewal Practices for Failure to Pay
Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Florida
(Credit: Free to Drive Campaign)

Pro Bono Initiatives

While the general public largely remains unaware of the problems associated with driver’s license suspensions for fines and fees, there are fortunately a variety of current initiatives committed to reforming this issue at the national, state, and local levels. 

In September of 2019, over 100 organizations across the United States, including various policy, advocacy, legal, grassroots and research-based organizations, initiated the “Free to Drive” campaign. This campaign aims to promote reform surrounding the issue of debt-based license suspensions and advocates for the removal of laws mandating license suspension for unpaid fines and fees or missed court appearances. 

At the state level, pro bono efforts to promote driver’s license reinstatement exist at varying degrees and often require high levels of collaboration between state agencies, legal organizations, the courts, and state bar associations. Listed below are examples of different states with relatively high levels of pro bono initiatives relating to driver’s license restoration.


  • Legal Services of Northern California: Provides pro bono assistance in 23 counties in Northern California and includes driver’s license restoration under its service priorities for enhancing economic stability. 


  • Florida Rural Legal Services “Drive to Work Initiative”: Initiative to help low-income residents of South Central Florida restore driver’s licenses after suspensions due to unpaid court fees. Provides advice, representation, and necessary transportation to get to work, medical appointments, and take children to activities. 
  • Leon County Driver’s License Restoration Clinics: Clinics held by Judges Stephen Everett and J. Layne Smith to assist Leon County residents with resolving problems related to debt-related license suspension. Clinics incorporate collaboration between public defenders, state attorneys, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, court clerks, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Program has also been duplicated in Broward County.)
  • Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Driver’s License Reinstatement Clinics: Collaborative effort between Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, and various local and state governments to help Orange County residents with license suspensions due to things like court fines, traffic tickets, and overdue child support fees.

North Carolina


  • Franklin County Driver’s License Reinstatement Program: Pro bono collaboration between Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk’s Office, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Ohio State Bar Association to help residents with driver’s licenses reinstatement. Event offers assistance from attorneys and other legal professionals as well as bankruptcy advisors, auto insurance companies, representatives from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and representatives from Franklin County Job and Family Services.
  • Perry Country Driver’s License Restoration Clinic: Driver’s license restoration clinic for residents of rural Perry County, Ohio. Collaboration between Perry County Municipal Court, Ohio State Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and Perry County Department of Job and Family Services to provide residents with pro bono legal services associated with driver’s license reinstatement, as well as training and insurance for participating attorneys.
  • Toledo Municipal Court Driver’s License Clinics: Driver’s license restoration clinics in the city of Toledo jointly managed between the Toledo Bar Association Pro Bono Legal Services Program, Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc., the State of Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Toledo Legal Aid Society, and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. In 2019, the city of Toledo held a total of seven clinics attended by nearly 750 people where over $340,000 in fines and fees were reduced or waived.


  • Legal Aid of Northwest Texas: In 2019, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas expanded its Driver’s License Restoration Project to include pro bono volunteers through a Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Pro Bono Innovation Grant. 


  • Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center: Offers various pro bono legal services (including driver’s license restoration) to low-income clients around the state of Virginia through their JusticeServer online case management and referral system.

Washington State

  • Northwest Justice Project: Free legal services available to eligible low-income Washington residents statewide for certain driver’s license suspension-related matters (excludes license suspension due to unpaid child support or criminal traffic convictions like DUI’s).
  • Attorney General’s Office Veterans Legal Clinic Spokane: Pro bono legal services for military personnel or veterans with income at or below 400% of the federal poverty level who live, or are stationed, in Washington State. The clinic provides assistance for a variety of different civil legal matters, including driver’s license restoration services. 

Pro bono volunteers and activists play a pivotal role in facilitating independence, leadership, and self-advocacy against the criminalization of poverty. Whether you prefer working on behalf of individual clients, nonprofit groups, or in federal advocacy, there are many possibilities to use your skills and talents. We hope you will be inspired and get involved! 

Have you done pro bono work supporting driver’s license restoration? Please reach out to us at and share your experience.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

Hat tip to PBI intern Brooke Weichel for her significant assistance.

May 28, 2020

COVID-19 Prompts Use of Pro Bono Katrina Rule in NJ

The coronavirus pandemic is the first medical disaster to trigger the application of the “Katrina rule,” a post-disaster pro bono rule that temporarily authorizes attorneys licensed out-of-state to provide pro bono legal services in the state affected by the disaster.

New Jersey is one of 18 jurisdictions that adopted the ABA Model Court Rule on Provision of Legal Services Following Determination of Major Disaster, also known as the “Katrina rule,” because it was first adopted by Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The rule allowed thousands of attorneys from other states unaffected by the crisis to fill a gap and provide pro bono services to address critical legal needs that arose as a result of the hurricane, in areas such as housing, family law, employment, and more. In the following years, additional states adopted the rule anticipating its usefulness in the wake of natural disasters like storms, floods, and tornadoes.

Now, New Jersey is a trailblazer in applying the rule as a result of COVID-19. On May 4, 2020, New Jersey’s Supreme Court issued an order to allow attorneys not licensed in New Jersey to provide temporary, supervised pro bono assistance in the wake of the pandemic. Specifically, lawyers in good standing and authorized to practice law in another U.S. jurisdiction may provide pro bono legal services during the COVID-19 major disaster under supervision of a New Jersey-licensed attorney in good standing, either through a legal services or public interest organization, law school clinical, certified pro bono program, or independent of an organization or program. The Court’s May 6, 2020 Notice to the Bar explains that the order is intended “to provide needed pro bono legal services to individuals and small businesses affected by the public health crisis.”

Whether other states will follow suit remains to be seen. Unlike a natural disaster, which is typically localized in a smaller number of jurisdictions, the pandemic is a global crisis. Not all regions have been impacted equally. As of May 20, New Jersey has the second highest number of cases in the United States and the second highest number of deaths, with only New York suffering more in raw numbers. The state anticipates a great need for pro bono legal services to address the fallout from COVID-19.

With so many attorneys eager to offer pro bono legal assistance to help people impacted by COVID-19, experts are advising pro bono attorneys across the country to be patient, recognizing that it may take time for needs to manifest. Will this New Jersey order spark attorneys in other jurisdictions to offer free legal help in the Garden State? Will other states adopt or activate rules to authorize more cross-jurisdiction pro bono assistance?  The PBEye will continue to follow these developments, and encourages readers to share developments in their state or country with PBI at

April 16, 2020

The New Not-So-Normal for Pro Bono Legal Services

In recent weeks, our world has been turned upside down. Around the globe, we have been asked to redefine normalcy, while the term “social distancing” has found itself in our day-to-day vocabulary. Understandably, many people are feeling helpless right now. Feelings of frustration arise, because we have a desire to go out and help our communities. However, we know that the best way to do that during this time is to stay inside. Pro bono and legal professionals, especially, may feel constricted at this time, as they know their assistance is needed, but it is difficult to know how to assist clients when we are confined to our homes. 

Fortunately, this is happening in a time where we have technological advancements that allow us to work remotely, have face to face meetings over video chat, and keep in touch with our friends and family. Technology also makes it possible to continue to do pro bono work. The ability to engage in various types of remote pro bono work gives legal professionals a chance to help those who really need it, without having to leave their home offices. 

There are many opportunities for remote pro bono during this time. The American Bar Association (ABA) Covid-19 task force recently launched a webpage detailing the delivery of legal services in relation to Covid-19. On this site, ABA links a Remote Legal Support Guide: A Best Practices Manual for Nonprofit and Pro Bono Innovation, published by Pro Bono Net. The manual is a fifty page document with information pooled from ten legal service organizations. It contains information about the logistics and lessons learned of successful remote legal support programs, and is based on a survey conducted prior to the current pandemic. 

Although it is extremely pertinent to the current state of the world, remote pro bono is not a new concept by any means. Many law firms, companies, and organizations have developed online platforms to assist in facilitating remote pro bono over the past few years. The ABA’s Free Legal Answers, a virtual pro bono clinic, launched in 2016 and has allowed attorneys in many jurisdictions across the U.S. to provide free brief legal to thousands of low- to moderate-income people.

We dug into the PBI archives for more project ideas and lessons learned about remote pro bono. Research projects can be incredibly impactful while also being convenient for participating volunteers.  For example, at a session on desktop pro bono at PBI’s 2017 Annual Conference, BNY Mellon** discussed a large-scale research project that volunteers from their legal department, White & Case*, and the National LGBT Bar Association took on after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) jn 2013. The volunteers conducted a 50-state survey of the state laws regarding joint filing of taxes by same-sex couples, which grew into the LGBT Online Tax Resource.  The key to success for this remote pro bono partnership was frequent check-ins between the partners, and setting clear deadlines.

At PBI’s 2013 Annual Conference, Mike Monahan, the Pro Bono Director at the Georgia State Bar, explained that several Georgia legal services organizations use a statewide volunteer website to conduct pro bono work. This enabled lawyers to video chat in order to meet face to face with clients in clinics. It also allowed clients to share their desktops so that documents could be viewed and worked on by the volunteer lawyers. Georgia’s use of rule 6.5, which allows volunteers to provide brief advice without conducting a full conflict check, also allowed for the website to offer live help from pro bono volunteers. 

Some pro bono clients may not be able to access the technology needed for online platforms or video conferencing. However, there are additional ways to facilitate remote pro bono outside of online platforms. Doing consultations with clients over the phone is a low-tech but effective   solution that many legal services organizations and pro bono volunteers have adopted. 

At PBI’s 2014 Annual Conference, Christie Searls, the former Senior Associate General Counsel at CenturyLink, Inc., explained how the company partnered with law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner* to set up a pro bono hotline. Pro bono volunteers were able to go online and select a time that they would like to volunteer, and the hotline number would be routed to their office phone. Training was provided by CenturyLink and Bryan Cave to the volunteers, and they were given a resource booklet to assist them with the calls. 

It is important to note that although providing pro bono legal assistance over the phone is a more accessible option for many clients, limitation may exist, including cell phone plans that restrict the number of minutes of talk time that a client has or that are discontinued as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.  

Some best practices for successful remote pro bono projects include:

  • Ensure each volunteer has clear instructions about their task.
  • Divide tasks into bite-size components to allow more volunteers to participate and to accomplish the task more quickly.  
  • Have volunteers work in teams or in a structure where they can provide support to one another if they get hit with a heavy workload.  
  • For multi-partner projects, draft communication plans to facilitate frequent and efficient communications, and use secure technology platforms to share research and documents.
  • For large-scale research projects, such as comparative law surveys, create templates for each volunteer to fill in, to ensure consistency and facilitate compilation of the research.

Although this is a difficult time, thanks to technology there are more ways than ever to continue to serve people, organizations, and businesses in need of pro bono legal services. There are many platforms to discover pro bono work that can be done from your home, and there are various ways to provide that assistance, whether it be through instant messaging, video chatting, or over the phone. Technology and great minds have provided us with plenty of opportunities for doing good at this time. So, stay on your couch, at your home office, or at your kitchen table, and start delivering some remote pro bono legal services today! 

*  denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

April 7, 2020

Secondary Trauma Stress: Sustaining Pro Bono Volunteers

Many pro bono attorneys volunteer in high stress matters, such as domestic violence, child abuse, immigration, and death penalty advocacy. While the mental health and trauma of the clients in these matters is paramount, these high-stakes, high-stress matters also impact the clients’ legal services providers. Just as doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can face psychological trauma in performing their jobs, many attorneys suffer from the mental health hazards of caring for others, such as burnout, vicarious trauma, and secondary trauma.

Secondary trauma stress, also referred to as vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, is a condition caused by exposure to another person’s trauma, with symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. In legal fields where clients experience trauma, studies show cause for concern for the attorneys exposed to their clients’ traumatic experiences. For example, a study of the Wisconsin State Public Defenders Office found that 34% of respondents met the criteria for secondary trauma and 75% met the criteria for functional impairment (disruption in personal life, family life). Similarly, a study of 23 Canadian prosecutors working with “sensitive cases” involving domestic violence and incest indicated the attorneys experienced demoralization, anxiety, helplessness, exhaustion, and social withdrawal.

While there is general awareness of the impact that client trauma can have on healthcare providers, law students and lawyers are less likely to learn about techniques to prepare them for this work. This lack of knowledge increases the risk of developing secondary trauma symptoms. One does not necessarily have to work directly with a client who has experienced trauma in order to develop secondary trauma stress; anyone who hears about client trauma indirectly can also be at risk. 

Because of these concerns, it is important that all attorneys are aware of the symptoms of secondary stress so that they can identify when they or their colleagues need help. Lawyer burnout manifests as disengagement from work, family, and friends, with symptoms such as fatigue, cynicism, feelings of inefficacy, and lack of attention to work and other commitments. Some symptoms of secondary traumatic stress that are most typically seen in the workplace include: 

  • avoidance (e.g., arriving late, leaving early, missing meetings, avoiding clients, skipping certain questions during interviews);
  • hypervigilance (e.g., feeling on edge, perceiving colleagues and clients as threatening, feeling like all clients are in danger);
  • seeing things as “black or white” rather than tolerating ambiguity;
  • becoming argumentative; and
  • shutting down, numbing out, using alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. 

Other symptoms of secondary traumatic stress that might not be visible in the workplace include:

  • sleep disturbance and nightmares;
  • physical pain, such as headaches or stomach pain;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms like anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts;
  • extreme fatigue; 
  • negative thinking; and
  • strained relationships with family and friends.

Luckily there are many tools that pro bono volunteers and others can use to prevent or cope with burnout or secondary trauma. Pro Bono Institute’s popular Annual Conference program, “When Helping Hurts,” has provided a forum for pro bono attorneys to discuss vicarious trauma and burnout, as well as healing and treatment strategies. For example, pro bono program leaders can encourage volunteers to discuss their concerns and feelings, to normalize the experience. Encouraging volunteers to celebrate their accomplishments can help volunteers to focus on small victories. Having a buddy to check in with can provide accountability and deter suppression of difficult emotions.  

The ABA also suggests many wellness strategies to help attorneys and their colleagues cope with secondary trauma, such as:

  • Set healthy work-life boundaries;
  • Take care of general health and well-being, including good exercise, sleep, and eating habits;
  • Seek counseling or other therapy support to discuss and reflect on high stress work;
  • Speak openly about secondary trauma to normalize it and make it easier to recognize;
  • Train employees and colleagues about recognizing secondary trauma and addressing it in a positive and supportive manner; and
  • Create a supportive organizational culture.

It is important to step back and make sure that pro bono attorneys are healthy enough to continue doing the work. Pro bono volunteers are people first, attorneys second. The work can only be done if those performing the work are mentally, emotionally, and physically in a positive space to be able to do so.

To learn more about the mental health effects of high stress representation, as well as strategies for healing and treatment, please listen to PBI’s webinar, When Helping Hurts. Contact for registration information.

Hat tip to PBI intern Shivani Trivedi for her contribution to this blog.

February 10, 2020

The Climate is Changing, So Why Isn’t Pro Bono?

With Greta Thunberg, paper straws, and devastating fires in Australia dominating news headlines, it would make sense that pro bono attorneys and public interest organizations would follow suit in focusing on climate change. Yet environmental pro bono isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Although environmental issues may not seem as dire or pressing to some attorneys as cases involving critical needs like housing and benefits, climate change is a planetary crisis that humanity is facing today. Researchers have found that climate change will have a dramatic impact on those living in poverty and that people living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to climate-related shocks and stressors. Those affected by natural disasters, unsafe living conditions, and exposure to extreme weather as a result of climate change are likely to experience deterioration in their economic well-being.

Pro bono attorneys have historically been eager to help with projects involving disaster relief. But pro bono environmental work is not limited to after the damage has been done. Now is the time to prioritize proactive environmental and climate change pro bono.

Why Does This Matter?

Reports indicate that environmental pro bono is a tiny percentage of the pro bono landscape. The CPBO Benchmarking Report from 2018 reveals that only 3% of pro bono work done by the reporting departments related to environmental law, with the majority of pro bono work being done in corporate law and immigration law. The ABA’s 2018 Report, Supporting Justice: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers does not even reference environmental pro bono work.

So, why is it so rare to see pro bono work for climate related cases? An easy answer would be that environmental law is a rapidly developing field. Before the EPA’s emergence into the legal scene in 1970, environmental statutes protecting either our health or our planet were sparse. Environmental law has been in motion since then; the late 20th and early 21st century saw a surge of environmental law cases in everything from forest preservation to emission regulation. Today, dozens of cases have been tried on both the local and federal levels, helping to prevent hazards such as air pollution and wildlife depletion. As years have passed, the effects of climate change have intensified, making environmental pro bono work more important now than ever.

Another reason for the rarity of environmental pro bono could be conflicts of interest. Some companies may be less likely to pick up an environmentally-based pro bono case if their industry is not especially environmentally-conscious. While corporate sustainability is becoming a key priority for many companies across industries, many legal departments may not put their volunteer weight behind a cause that could threaten their business model. But there are ways to invest in our planet without upsetting a client base or business models. For example, pro bono attorneys can take on more localized projects to help people install renewable energy initiatives and support efforts for better living conditions. Supporting smaller projects at the community level can make an enormous environmental impact and often can be done in a way that does not present conflicts for the company.

One final reason why attorneys may not be participating in environmental pro bono could be a lack of understanding about what it entails, or they do not know where to find environmental pro bono opportunities. For those firms and companies looking to diversify their pro bono projects, environmental law encapsulates everything from property law to health law. One of the most famous environmental law cases in recent history was Rapanos v. United States (2006), an environmental case with an inherent private property law component. Environmental law is incredibly intersectional and needs all types of attorneys. These types of cases cover such a wide range of topics that lawyers with experience in seemingly unrelated fields can be an enormous help to the cause. 

Furthermore, climate change litigation has two distinct prongs, according to White & Case: public law actions and private law actions. In public law actions, pro bono lawyers can support individuals’ constitutional right to safe living environments through legal action to obtain things like access to clean water and sustainable housing. Additionally, volunteer lawyers can help people affected by unsafe environmental regulation and/or natural disaster repercussions. This type of law allows pro bono attorneys to address critical legal needs at the individual level while also contributing to the larger climate change cause. The private law realm involves breaches of contracts and torts involving environmental causes that may also lead to pro bono litigation. Something like an oil spill, gas leak, or even smells that significantly alter the quality of someone’s property would fall into the environmental tort category. Working to uphold contracts that significantly protect land can be an important vein in fighting for climate justice. In short, there are multiple ways to get involved with environmental pro bono regardless of how attorneys might go about it.

Preexisting Environmental Pro Bono Initiatives

At the moment, there are some exciting environmental pro bono projects underway. At the Global Action Climate Summit in 2018, several organizations committed to engage in climate-related pro bono cases including nine law firms (Arnold & Porter*, Cooley*, Dentons*, Holland & Knight*, Latham & Watkins*, Morrison & Foerster*, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati*, Hogan Lovells*, and Wilmer Hale*) that committed to contributing a collective $15 million to environmental pro bono services by 2020. Arnold & Porter has been working on projects focused on the need for a massive increase in renewable energy and recently created the Renewable Energy Legal Defense Initiative in partnership with Michael Gerrard of Columbia Law School which is entirely pro bono. Additionally, Michael Gerrard and John Dernbach of Widener University’s Commonwealth Law School have spearheaded an initiative through which 20 large law firms have committed to draft model climate laws on a pro bono basis. The laws are primarily intended to focus on the reduction of fossil fuels. In terms of education opportunities for law students, Stanford Law School’s Environmental Pro Bono Law Project is one example of an academic center that promotes research and analysis as well as opportunities for environmental pro bono work.

Many legal service organizations have committed their efforts to environmental work, and often offer pro bono opportunities. Green Pro Bono is an organization connecting individuals and nonprofits with pro bono lawyers looking to do environmental projects. One of their largest projects has been a collaboration between EGG-energy (Engineering Global Growth) entrepreneurs with a Goodwin Procter* pro bono attorney to deliver rechargeable electricity batteries (as opposed to kerosene) to low-income households in Tanzania. Earthjustice is another non-profit organization focused on providing pro bono environmental litigation services to protect health, preserve nature and wildlife, advance clean energy, and combat climate change, on behalf of their clients, some of whom include Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and The Humane Society of the United States.

Likewise, climate justice organizations have begun to make way for normalizing climate change and environmentalism as an everyday practice. The Conservation Law Foundation has worked to support environmentally sustainable practices in the U.S., particularly in New England. Additionally, the Sierra Club, American Rivers, and the Natural Resource Defense Council all do incredible work to encourage nature preservation. On a global scale, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Environmental Defense Fund promote environmental standards on an international level. From these organizations and efforts alone, it’s clear that environmentalism is a growing priority amongst activists and public interest advocates alike.

Looking into the Future of Environmental Pro Bono

These are inspiring examples of firms and organizations engaging in environmental work, but they can’t do it alone. Pro bono programs at companies and firms can consider seeking out environmental law and climate change pro bono matters, in recognition that climate change is one of this generation’s most immediate threats. Pro bono work of all kinds is important, but none can take place unless our planet remains intact and livable. Although pro bono legal counsel won’t stop the earth from warming or the ice caps from melting, their work is critical to promoting and delivering justice.

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Hat tip to PBI intern Gabrielle Fagan for drafting this blog.  

Interested in learning more about climate change pro bono?  Come to PBI’s Annual Conference and check out our session on “Tapping into Pro Bono Energy: How Lawyers are Transforming Climate Change” on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

January 23, 2020

Pro Bono Representation for Indigenous Peoples

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the
impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

Iroquois Maxim

In September 2019, a monumental bronze sculpture depicting Native American civil rights leader Chief Standing Bear was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol. The significance of this symbol — a Native tribal member claiming space in the heart of the nation’s capital on behalf of his tribe and all Native people — cannot be overstated. The history of Native peoples in America has been fraught with conflict, broken treaties, and forced relocations — an experience familiar to Chief Standing Bear, whose tribe was forced by federal treaty to leave its homeland in 1876 to make room for Western expansion. A tense relationship between tribes and the federal government has existed since the beginning of treaty negotiations in the eighteenth century — a relationship that remains complicated by historically high levels of poverty, unemployment, disability, and addiction on federally-owned Native reservations. Against this background, unveiling a statue of a Ponca chief in the home of the nation’s legislative body is no small gesture, and the image of Chief Standing Bear has particular significance. A Ponca chief at the center of the Native civil rights struggle, Standing Bear successfully argued before Omaha Federal Court in 1879 that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law” and have the right of habeas corpus – establishing for the first time that Native Americans are entitled civil rights under American law. Though today viewed as an undisputed truth, these rights were highly controversial from their inception.

Today, the pro bono professionals who devote their time and skills to ensure the preservation of our nation’s indigenous heritage are instrumental in the ongoing struggle for recognition and protection of Native rights, and the effort behind unveiling of Chief Standing Bear’s monument is no exception. Leading the charge to memorialize the Native civil rights leader on behalf of the Ponca tribe was Akin Gump’s pro bono team, spearheaded by Ponca member and senior counsel of the firm’s American Indian law and policy center Katie Bossie. 

Pro bono advocacy remains vital in Indian country to uplift Native voices and secure the rights of Native Americans, who even today experience poverty, addiction, and suicide at the highest levels of any marginalized group. 

There has been a growing national spotlight on Indigenous movements – and with that, an increasing friction within the legal system. Indigenous rights issues offer opportunities for pro bono lawyers to have a significant and meaningful impact while being at the forefront of trailblazing legal efforts. 

Pro Bono Meets Unmet Legal Needs of Indigenous People

Opportunities to engage in pro bono on behalf of indigenous people include handling litigation, mediation, transactional matters and governmental affairs, and can include partnerships with advocacy groups, such as the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and American Indian Law Alliance (AILA). Efforts by major law firms have been vital in advocating for the indigenous population, as is clear from the many victories achieved by pro bono lawyers on behalf of Native peoples:

  • Sovereignty: In 2018, Kirkland & Ellis*† won a major case for treaty rights in the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the Crow tribe. Wyoming state officials charged Herrera, a citizen of the Crow tribe, for hunting without a state license outside the tribe’s reservation; the Crow citizen argued that he was hunting in unceded territory and thus protected by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, as treaties do not have an expiration date even during statehood. The Supreme Court agreed. Thanks to pro bono efforts, the Supreme Court held the federal government accountable to its treaty obligations and affirmed tribal sovereignty and right to self-determination. 
  • Infrastructure and Energy: Greenberg Traurig*† partnered with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to facilitate the consultation of Indigenous communities regarding infrastructure and energy projects on shared land. The firm prepared a study of the legal processes needed to comply with Mexican law, including a review of publications prepared by NHRC to promote ease of access by indigenous communities while retaining full protection of their rights.
  • Religious Freedom: Dorsey & Whitney*† successfully negotiated a settlement agreement with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), resulting in a change of policy regarding the handling of sacred Native American artifacts. The firm, representing the Native American Church of North America and Mr. Iron Rope, brought suit against TSA alleging violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when Mr. Iron Rope’s sacred items were improperly handled by TSA agents during routine screening. Under the terms of the settlement, TSA will require training regarding the handling of Native American sacred items and publish a Job Aid to educate its agents about less intrusive methods for inspecting items.
  • Citizenship: Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman successfully represented Cherokee Freedmen in a citizenship rights case in Washington, D.C. After a decade-long effort, the firm secured the rights of Cherokee Freedmen, descendants of slaves originally owned by members of the Cherokee nation, as full Cherokee citizens. This citizenship entitles the members full tribal benefits under the law – including the right to vote in tribal elections. The firm also obtained commitments from the U.S. Department of the Interior, who has oversight authority over the Cherokee Nation, to ensure that Cherokee Freedmen have equal access to federal Indian Health Services and other federal benefits administered by tribes.
  • Voting Rights: In 2013, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius*† and Armstrong Teasdale, *† co-counsel to NARF, successfully charged  Alaska election officials with ongoing violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The pro bono team negotiated a settlement that provided, for the first time, that Alaska’s Official Election Pamphlet be translated into Alaska Native languages and dialects. Thanks to their efforts, Alaskan Natives can fully understand what they are voting for with Alaska’s new comprehensive language assistance program. 

Pro bono volunteers and activists play a pivotal role in facilitating independence, leadership, and self-advocacy among the Indigenous population to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. Whether you prefer working on behalf of individual clients, nonprofit groups, or in federal advocacy, the field of indigenous rights offers unlimited possibility to use your skills and talent to improve the lives of our nation’s First Peoples. We hope you will be inspired and get involved! 

Have you done pro bono work supporting indigenous the community? Please reach out to us at and share your experience.

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

Hat tip to PBI intern Emily Ren for her significant assistance.  

January 14, 2020

Tips for Making the Most of Pro Bono Programs in Small and Mid-Size Markets

Pro bono programs in smaller markets often face challenges such as the number of opportunities, the size of the volunteer pool, and the availability of local resources. Rather than lament their location, law firm offices and legal departments located outside of larger metropolitan areas can collaborate and think creatively to achieve their pro bono goals.

At PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference and in a PBI webinar, attorneys from MassMutual**, Capital One Financial Corporation**, Quarles & Brady*, and Hampden County Bar Association, who have seized the challenge of cultivating pro bono in small and mid-sized cities, shared best practices and solutions to common challenges. They distilled their advice into seven tips for capitalizing on pro bono in small and mid-size markets:

  1. Partners are key. Consider partnering with other organizations in your community and even more far-flung partners that are willing to help. Partners include law firms, in-house legal departments, legal services organizations, bar associations, and community organizations.

    In Springfield, Massachusetts, MassMutual partnered with the Hampden County Bar Association to engage its legal staff in pro bono. This partnership created more opportunities for in-house and small firm attorneys to provide pro bono legal services in an area of the state that lacks large law firms. In one year, the director doubled the number of pro bono programs that the bar association runs and increased recruitment of volunteers from around the region. Recently, MassMutual funded a position for a director of pro bono at the Bar Association to further the pro bono program.

    In the Greater Richmond, Virginia area, eleven large law firms, two legal departments, and the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation collaborated to create a pro bono partnership Firms in Service, which delivers pro bono legal services. Recognizing that there was a high need for legal services in southwest Virginia, which has far fewer attorneys per capita to serve low-income individuals than Richmond itself, Firms in Service expanded its partnerships to include Southwest Legal Aid to provide pro bono assistance in more rural parts of the state. Now, volunteers in the Richmond area are able to serve clients remotely.
  2. Get help! Invite paralegals, legal staff, law students, retired lawyers, judges, and others in your community to participate in pro bono opportunities. Think broadly about who can participate. Volunteers who are not lawyers can support pro bono efforts by assisting with intake or records review, among other responsibilities.

    MassMutual has a task force to recruit paralegals and staff to volunteer in pro bono matters and seeks to increase participation from these lay advocates in the department. Currently, 50-60% of the legal department’s staff participate in pro bono.
  3. Start with a pilot (if you can). A pilot program allows an organization to test drive a pro bono program or initiative before committing fully. It can be implemented more quickly than the complete program, allows for vetting programs by measuring their success on a smaller scale, and provides an opportunity to work out and obtain feedback on the value and efficiency of the pro bono program. These steps help prevent volunteer attrition by ensuring that people feel that their time and input is valued.

    Quarles & Brady often runs pilot pro bono projects to ensure that the firm has the right pro bono partners and is meeting a stated legal need. Pilot projects also allow the firm to work out who will be responsible for each part of the project, such as administration, communication, and liaising with the courts. After a successful pilot, the firm scales up. If firm leaders identify kinks, they have the opportunity to work them out. For example, when the firm piloted a brief advice immigration legal clinic in the south side of Milwaukee, they found that the marketing was attracting law enforcement. As a result, the firm made changes to its model for providing immigration advice to ensure that clients would receive advice safely and discretely.
  4. Fundraise and leverage resources in your community. Research sources of funding such as grants in your community and surrounding areas. This can be a valuable source of funding for improving access to justice in the community. Keep statistics to demonstrate the impact of your work in the community to aid in fundraising. Also, keep in mind that urban areas can support more rural and remote neighborhoods.

    To help launch Firms in Service in Richmond, Capital One made a seed donation and invited other partners in the Richmond area to join. These partners contributed both funds and volunteers to the collaboration, which serves residents in more rural parts of Virginia.
  5. Be creative. Think of ways to engage professionals outside of the legal department to support delivery of pro bono legal services. In-kind donations from tech, data, or communications experts can help support the delivery of pro bono services.

    MassMutual data scientists helped the Hampden County Bar Association to analyze data and establish a baseline for its debt clinic. The contribution of the data scientists’ time and expertise allows partners to measure the success of their efforts.
  6. Be strategic. Assess the needs in your community and the populations that are most vulnerable, and assess the interests and skills of your volunteers. Look for commonalities to identify projects that will have the greatest impact and be most enticing to volunteers.

    Capital One’s Richmond office identified projects that volunteers are passionate about and that serve critical needs in the community, such as providing financial and legal services to families of cancer patients in partnership with CancerLINC, a nonprofit that eases the burden of cancer by providing assistance, education, and referral to legal resources, financial guidance, and community services. Capital One also helped individuals released from prison to obtain restricted licenses for employment (thereby reducing recidivism) in partnership with the Drive to Work program, which assists low-income and previously incarcerated persons to restore their driving privileges.
  7. Evaluate, and reevaluate. Periodically check in with colleagues, clients, volunteers, and partners to assess how the work is going, and whether the pro bono legal services are addressing the legal needs of the communities served.  

    The Hampden County Bar Association is working closely with the pro bono community and the court to expands its pro bono consumer debt clinic. Having check-ins with pro bono volunteers, funders, community members, and judges helps to ensure that the program is benefiting the community and is efficiently serving the needs of the court.

Together, these tips will help you build and grow a stronger pro bono program in a smaller market. (Much of the advice applies in larger markets, too!) 

To learn more, listen to our on-demand webinar, Location, Location, Location: Capitalizing on Unique Opportunities for Pro Bono in Small and Mid-Size Markets, or contact CPBO at   

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

December 17, 2019

Progress in 2019 Toward Securing a Right to Counsel in Housing Cases

Last year, The PBEye reported on the burgeoning movement to advance a right to counsel in housing. At the time, the pioneering jurisdictions of New York City and San Francisco had implemented a right to counsel for tenants in eviction proceedings. Several other cities, including the District of Columbia, Philadelphia, and Newark, had taken steps to increase representation of low-income tenants in eviction proceedings, including through pro bono pilot projects.

More than a year later, The PBEye is excited to report that the movement is growing! Cleveland has joined the ranks of local jurisdictions that have guaranteed city-funded counsel for low-income tenants. Other cities, like Minneapolis and Los Angeles, are taking steps toward a right to counsel. 

For an update on how the right to counsel movement is rolling out across the country, including the critical role of pro bono attorneys in several jurisdictions, please see our new edition of The Movement to Secure Right to Counsel in Housing.

November 26, 2019

Hoosier Lawyer? As of January 1, 2020, They Don’t Have to Be From Indiana

On January 1, 2020, the pool of attorneys eligible to provide pro bono legal services in Indiana will expand, thanks to a recent order of the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana joins 39 states and the District of Columbia in permitting non-locally licensed in-house counsel to provide pro bono legal services in the jurisdiction in which they practice law for their employer. These authorizations come in the form of practice rules permitting registered in-house counsel, or out-of-state attorneys more broadly, to deliver pro bono services. Such rules are a critical step in helping to address the shortage of available legal aid for low-income individuals in the United States.

The October 17, 2019 Indiana Supreme Court order creates a new category of law license – a “Pro Bono Publico License” – for which inactive, retired, or active out-of-state attorneys in good standing may apply. Attorneys who are licensed out-of-state and work in-house pursuant to a Business Counsel License are eligible to apply for the pro bono license, which is to be granted in the discretion of the Court.

In July, PBI submitted comments to the Indiana Supreme Court on the proposed rule, applauding the rule for providing a pathway for registered in-house counsel and others to assist persons of limited means to access free legal services.  PBI recommended that the court not impose restrictions or limitations on the authorization for registered in-house counsel to engage in pro bono, and instead implement a “model rule” where the pro bono authorization is subject only to the rules of professional conduct, as in Illinois, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, Indiana did not adopt a “model rule”; instead, the new rule requires covered attorneys to provide pro bono services through an approved pro bono or legal service organization. This restriction limits attorneys from providing pro bono legal services through law firm partnerships, nonprofit organizations that provide vital services to the community but are not traditional legal services providers (e.g., United Way), community services organizations, and civil rights organizations.

Nevertheless, PBI commends Indiana for implementing a pro bono rule that will permit registered in-house counsel and other out-of-state attorneys, as well as retired and inactive Indiana attorneys to provide much-needed pro bono legal services to low-income families and individuals in Indiana.

Are you interested in expanding the authorization for in-house attorneys and others to provide pro bono legal services? Contact PBI for more information about its multijurisdictional practice initiative, and join our effort to advance rules that encourage pro bono participation.