The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It


November 19, 2019

Bringing Efficiency to Pro Bono

Law firms are widely prioritizing efficiency as a means to increase profit. Altman Weil’s “2018 Law Firms in Transition” survey found that more than 85 percent of responding firms were implementing at least one strategy to increase the efficiency of their delivery of legal services. Are your pro bono programs keeping up, adhering to the same standards, and becoming more efficient as well?

Efficiency within an organization is all about finding a way to reach your organization’s desired goals using the least amount of time and money. For a law firm’s pro bono practice, the goal is to find a way to serve the maximum number of pro bono clients. In order to increase the efficiency of your pro bono practice, your firm must serve your pro bono clients in an intentional and purposeful way that decreases waste, maximizes your attorneys’ time, and remains within the firm’s budget. There are a variety of strategies and techniques that law firms can adopt to make their pro bono programs more efficient and effective, while continuing to be meaningful. Below are a few examples:

Pro Bono Practice Groups

One structure that law firms have used to increase efficiency in their pro bono programs is to create pro bono practice groups that are centered around specialized areas of poverty law such as immigration, landlord-tenant, and nonprofit organizations. Not unlike a billable practice group, each pro bono practice group has a budget and designated leader with expertise overseeing the practice. Practice groups enable efficient and effective pro bono work by providing a relatable structure for training, giving attorneys identifiable mentors within their practice groups, providing supervision, support, and resources for pro bono matters, and cultivating inspiration and momentum to continue pro bono work. Pro bono practice groups also offer an element of collegiality and socialization, allowing people from across the firm to meet, collaborate, and forge meaningful connections. Mirroring the structure of the firm’s billable practice and giving attorneys training and expertise in a specialized area increases efficiency by allowing attorneys to work on pro bono matters in a framework with which they are familiar and comfortable.

Areas of Strategic Focus

Just as firms have become laser-focused on identifying billable practice areas of excellence to develop, so too can pro bono practices create areas of pro bono strategic focus to improve efficiency. Instead of trying to be all things to all people (and legal services organizations), some firms have taken a more targeted approach: focusing their pro bono docket on select areas, where firm attorneys have (or are willing to cultivate) significant expertise. This saves time and resources that would have otherwise been dedicated to attorneys constantly having to learn how to practice new areas of poverty law, and, thereby, enables the firm to provide high-quality pro bono work with less start-up time.

Note: A downside of any limiting approach is that the pro bono opportunities could become so narrow as to not be of interest to many firm attorneys. Streamlining cannot come at the expense of participation and engagement.

Predictable Time Commitments

Offering pro bono opportunities with finite time commitments, such as legal advice hotlines, court-based mediation programs, and advice and referral clinics may also enhance the efficiency of the delivery of legal services to pro bono clients. These opportunities attract attorneys who are otherwise resistant to get involved due to concerns that they do not have the time to dedicate to unlimited, long-term pro bono matters. It also allows the attorneys who already participate in the pro bono practice to potentially engage with more clients by taking advantage of these opportunities during times when their billable practice may not allow them to take on a more extensive  matter. Keeping commitments structured and scheduled within set time parameters can allow the firm to serve more clients and increase efficiency.

Resourceful Use of Technology

Today’s technology allows law firms to work more efficiently than ever before, and these same tech tools can be used to make pro bono programs more efficient as well. Automation has allowed law firms to increase productivity and reduce time spent on tasks like time and expense entry, client intake, etc. Online systems can be used to closely track both billable and pro bono hours, thereby making this process more efficient and encouraging attorneys to track their pro bono time on the same system. Online systems can also help firms monitor case management needs by quickly identifying cases that are lacking sufficient attorney coverage, cases where junior attorneys are billing significant time but supervising attorneys are not, and other important data that is critical to increasing their practice’s administrative efficiency and risk management guardrails. Tech platforms can also be used to streamline matter placement and make the process of case assignment more efficient.

Cloud-based and remote access legal software have been adopted to give attorneys the flexibility to work where and when they need to, thereby increasing flexibility and overall efficiency. One of the simplest ways technology can benefit the efficiency of a firm’s pro bono practice is through its knowledge-sharing capabilities. If, for instance, an attorney is working on an asylum case for the first time and other attorneys in the firm have handled prior cases, the firm’s information management platform can provide easy access to information and materials needed to best service the client, such as examples and model documents that had been prepared in prior similar matters, without having to re-invent the wheel. This technological benefit can serve to get more attorneys involved since      even the more complicated matters would no longer seem as daunting. By using this tech to increase efficiency, the extra time and the saved resources that result from leveraging institutional knowledge could be used to further expand the firm’s ability to serve pro bono clients.

Hat tip to PBI interns Leah Calabro and Emily Ren for their assistance.

November 6, 2019

Keep Growing and Going Global: Upping the Pro Bono Game in GSK Legal

Legal departments of many multinational companies have expanded their pro bono efforts beyond the United States to other markets. Twenty-eight percent of legal departments are engaged in global pro bono, according to the 2018 Benchmarking Report of Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), while others are exploring how to do so. We invited Andy Boczkowski, Assistant General Counsel at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Chair of its Pro Bono Legal Committee, to discuss how GSK is rapidly scaling up its pro bono program from national to global.


GSK is a global pharmaceutical and healthcare company with a mission to help people do more, feel better, and live longer. GSK makes medicines that address unmet medical needs. GSK values its relationship with society and recognizes the importance of trust in achieving its mission. Accordingly, it devotes significant effort to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and engages in many programs and activities to improve the communities where we live, work and where our medicines have impact.

Within the Legal Department, the company has long recognized that the legal profession is uniquely qualified to serve society by improving access to justice. Beginning in 2005, GSK Legal formalized a US pro bono policy outlining company support for in-house counsel interested in pro bono without mandating participation. For many years a small but devoted group of US attorneys provided pro bono legal service with company support. It was a program to be proud of for sure—but we knew we could do more.

Beginning in 2018, the Law Department began a plan to accelerate growth of its pro bono program to address unmet legal need with a greater impact. The plan was to go global and grow. The journey has just begun but we are excited to embark on it. Here are the key features and lessons learned of GSK’s global pro bono program to date:

  1. Tone from the Top. James Ford, our General Counsel, highlighted pro bono in his global broadcasts to attorneys. We also incorporated a pro bono session at our all hands Global Legal learning sessions in Singapore, London and Raleigh, where the new global program was unveiled and where local pilot projects were highlighted.
  2. Go Global. We expanded the US-only pro bono policy to a global policy. We were able to leverage the consultative services of CPBO to draft it. And we set up a pro bono committee to approve and track projects and staffed it with lawyers from around the globe to help generate a truly global presence.
  3. Inclusion. We defined the program to be for ALL LEGAL STAFF, not just lawyers. Having administrative support and paralegals involved with attorneys handling pro bono is driving a true team mentality. We also purchased in-house attorney malpractice insurance for pro bono on a global basis. The high return on this small investment increased confidence in the program and widened the range of possible pro bono projects our attorneys could choose from.
  4. Align with CSR. We communicated our goals and worked with our colleagues in our Community Partnerships group to show how Legal contributed to company CSR goals. We provided reports of our efforts and hours and fed that into metrics about the company’s employee volunteer programs. And we aligned pro bono projects to nonprofits that received grants from GSK by volunteering pro bono legal services to such organizations. For example, for years we have been staffing a legal intake clinic at a homeless shelter in Philadelphia. This pro bono project was initially inspired by a company grant to the Homeless Advocacy Project. And, in the UK, we have initiated a project to provide pro bono legal services to nonprofits receiving company community partnership grants.
  5. Align to Inclusion and Diversity Programs. We discovered that the subject matter of many pro bono projects, as well as the partnerships and interactions available in the pro bono space, ended up having much in common with GSK Legal’s interests from an Inclusion and Diversity perspective. We highlighted common ground in the hopes of increasing participation in both Pro Bono and I&D projects. For example, one of our attorneys was able to obtain asylum for a pro bono client who experienced severe discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation in their home country. We highlighted the story and pro bono referral organization within the GSK I&D community.
  6. Define Pro Bono in the Context of Corporate Values. We made sure we showed our lawyers and business colleagues how our pro bono program aligned to the broader corporate vision.
  7. Awareness. We updated our pro bono web page. We started a Facebook workplace pro bono page to share opportunities, report successes, exchange ideas and recognize great work.
  8. Leveraging Relationships. We invited our external counsel to pitch in-house/external firm pro bono partnerships. This has been especially important outside the US where we had no prior pro bono project experience as a company. Indeed, our first pro bono project in the UK was a partnership proposed by our outside counsel where our lawyers have teamed up with the firm to provide legal services related to disability benefit challenges in the UK.

During 2019 to date, we have already eclipsed GSK Legal’s total pro bono service hours in 2018 and instead of having projects running in only the Philadelphia and Raleigh metro areas, our program also now has multiple new US-based projects, including in Warren, NJ, and Rockville, MD, as well as projects in London (project related to disability benefit challenges and project providing corporate legal advice to nonprofits that receiving GSK grants), and Singapore (a project to provide legal training to nonprofits that assist migrant workers in the region). Pilot projects in Europe are slated to kick off soon as we grow the program worldwide.

GSK Legal’s journey toward doing more to address unmet legal need is now accelerated and we look forward to striving to continuously improve the pro bono program. 

October 15, 2019

Leaves Are Falling, Pro Bono Is Calling

Just as surely as October brings about leaves changing color, baseball playoffs, trick-or-treat, and pumpkin everything, for attorneys, October also means Pro Bono Week.

In the PBEye’s hometown of Washington, D.C., DC Pro Bono Week is a great opportunity to learn new skills, serve new clients, and engage with the many legal service organizations in our community. With so many events planned, the “week” kicks off early, on Wednesday, October 16, with Pro Bono Goes Local: A Launch Celebration for DC Pro Bono Week, featuring the Chief Judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals and the D.C. Superior Court. Pro Bono Week runs through Saturday, October 26, when Rising for Justice will host an Expungement Clinic at which pro bono volunteers can represent clients eligible for criminal record sealing. Throughout the week, organizer Washington Council of Lawyers and its partners have planned opportunities to participate in clinics serving veterans or small businesses; to tour courthouses or a medical-legal partnership site; to participate in a poverty simulation to better understand the experience of low-income clients; and even to use tech skills to hack legal problems. Check out the full calendar of trainings and events and consider signing up.

But fear not if the Nation’s Capital is not in your backyard; October brings a plethora of pro bono events and celebrations around the country. Pro bono supporters will join with the American Bar Association (ABA) for the 2019 National Celebration of Pro Bono from October 20 – 26, 2019. This event, now in its eleventh year, is an initiative of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, which seeks to highlight the increasing demand for pro bono legal services and to honor the contributions of volunteer attorneys who help meet the demand. The ABA offers tools to search for 2019 Pro Bono Celebration Events geographically (check out this map) or chronologically (search for events on the calendar). Events include clinics and other direct service opportunities; pro bono fairs; recognition of outstanding pro bono volunteers; community education and outreach; continuing legal education (CLE) programs; and other training programs. Nearly 700 events are planned to date, with opportunities for experienced pro bono leaders and new volunteers alike. This year, the ABA’s national celebration will highlight the need for legal assistance for domestic and sexual violence survivors. The ABA noted in selecting its theme that October is also domestic violence awareness month, and that pro bono attorneys can assist with matters including protective orders, custody, and child support.

Even if you’re not formally participating in a Pro Bono Week in your community, this is a great opportunity to reflect on your pro bono program. What has worked well over the past few seasons? What might be needed to bring your program to the next level? How can your program engage more volunteers? Can your program do more to meet the critical legal needs of low-income residents in your community? How does pro bono benefit your community, your company, and your employees? These are worthy topics for consideration as your program begins planning and budgeting for greater and more impactful engagement throughout 2020. If you need help, PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project and Corporate Pro Bono project are here for you.

Happy fall!

September 17, 2019

Lessons From The Lion King

With the success of “The Lion King” remake, love of the Pride Lands and its colorful characters has resurfaced. In addition to its numerous comical and emotional moments, the tale of a lion becoming a king is filled with wisdom and insights that can be spread across the lands, including for law firm pro bono programs. Characters like Mufasa (thankfully still voiced by James Earl Jones) and Rafiki offer several memorable adages that we can all take to heart.

Spoiler alert: there is a reason that Simba’s altruism succeeds and Scar’s self-serving nature leads to his demise.

Here are a few pieces of pro bono advice from some of the film’s standout quotes:

“Look beyond what you see.” –Rafiki

Rafiki spouts a number of sage maxims, but this one is exemplary. In light of the ongoing access to justice crisis, there are a wide variety of available pro bono opportunities, and attorneys should not feel limited or constrained. Look outside of your commercial practice area and beyond your law firm’s current docket. If your firm is not offering pro bono projects that you wish to pursue, don’t be deterred! Communicate directly with the firm’s pro bono leaders and they will work with you to meet your interests and needs. You can forge your own path to making a difference. For example, if your specialty is private equity, consider taking on an immigration matter. You might discover a new area of the law and client population to be passionate about. Pro bono work is a meaningful avenue to becoming a well-rounded, experienced lawyer.

“You got to put your behind in your past.” –Pumbaa

That’s what his buddy Timon always says, right? Keep moving forward. Thinking about the sudden or planned departure of a pro bono leader is neither easy nor comfortable. As a result, succession planning often takes a backseat on pro bono “to-do lists.” However, it is important that firms create clear succession management plans so that their pro bono programs are not vulnerable during periods of change. The Law Firm Pro Bono Project has a toolkit, Planning for the Future: Law Firm Pro Bono Succession Management, designed to help firms jumpstart their transition process. Among other things, the publication offers sample strategies, models, timelines, and checklists for different departure scenarios and provides customizable job descriptions and competencies to assist with your planning and pro bono leadership transition. Get started today, eliminate guilty regrets, and enjoy the peace of mind that planning provides.

“As you go through life, you will see that there is so much that we don’t understand. And the only thing we know is things don’t always go the way we plan.” –Simba

We are amazed and inspired by the important pro bono work being done every day to improve and save lives. Law firm pro bono programs have been experimenting with innovative approaches to close the justice gap. A key component of innovation, however, is evaluation. We must be prepared to take an open and honest look at the impact of our pro bono efforts with rigorous and unbiased assessment and a profound willingness to change anything that isn’t working well. Things don’t always go as planned – and we must adapt accordingly.

“Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe with you.” –Mufasa

We encourage firms with 50 or more lawyers to “believe in themselves” and join the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative. For firms that have not yet enrolled because of a concern that it’s simply too late or that they cannot meet the Challenge goals, we encourage you to sign on and use this tool to advance pro bono at your firm. There is no downside to becoming a Challenge signatory, as we do not publish disaggregated statistics, nor do we in any way identify individual firms as having met or not met their Challenge goals. Firms are welcome to enroll in the Challenge at any point of the year, and are given a grace period before the reporting requirement kicks in. Now is the perfect time for firms to join our efforts to improve access to justice.

”Life’s not fair, is it?” –Scar

The villain of the story underscores a harsh reality with this line: unrepresented litigants face devastating odds and having access to a lawyer matters, not just to the perception of justice but to the end result. For example, one study by the Government Accountability Office conservatively estimates that asylum applications were granted three times more often when the applicant was represented by a lawyer. The fight isn’t fair and the numbers have only gotten more acute in all aspects of need (i.e., housing, family matters, government benefits, post-prison re-entry, education, criminal justice, civil rights). The pro bono community must work together to create a level playing field that provides equal justice for all and systemic reform to combat structural inequality.

“Remember who you are.” –Mufasa

We spend a lot of time thinking, researching, talking, and writing about why lawyers and law firms should do pro bono work. Many of the benefits of pro bono work (both the easily measurable ones and those less quantifiable) continue to validate a hard-nosed business rationale for pro bono and institutional law firm engagement. But it is fundamentally every lawyer’s moral and ethical duty to ensure equal access to justice. Setting aside the business case for pro bono, we must not discount the innate good of doing pro bono. Simba stepped up to lead the Pride Lands as its king, and we must step up to address the legal needs of those in society who are unable to pay for representation. It is our responsibility to serve our community. That dynamic is at the heart of what makes the legal profession different from other professions.

Please contact us at for more ideas and inspiration.

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

August 23, 2019

A Shift to Service: Adapting to the Values of the Millennial Generation

A Focus on Service and How Pro Bono Work May Help

In recent years, companies have focused increasingly on social responsibility and volunteerism within the professional sector. It’s no coincidence that this shift comes as the Millennial Generation, those individuals born between approximately 1981 and 1996, has assumed a prominent role within the workplace. According to a 2018 Pew Research Poll, millennials comprise more than one-third of the total labor force, giving them the greatest representation of any generation in the labor market. With projections that millennials will make up 75% of the labor force by 2030, the influence of this generation on the professional world will continue to grow.

The Millennial Generation has unique needs and priorities in the workforce. They value social interactions, the freedom and flexibility to manage their time independently, and employment benefits over large salaries. Millennials demand a sense of purpose in their own work, and that has translated to similar expectations of their employers. A 2016 study surveying millennials employed at large companies found that 64% of millennials would refuse a job from a company that does not have strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices, and 75% would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. 

Not only can companies with strong CSR programs more effectively recruit millennial employees, but they also can better retain them. According to the same study, 83% of millennial employees said they would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues. Additionally, 88% said they would find their jobs more fulfilling if provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.

The business world is starting to reflect this shifting paradigm of corporate responsibility of importance to millennials. Larry Fink, CEO of investment management corporation BlackRock, highlighted the millennial generation’s need for purpose in recruiting and retaining young professionals, as well as a shift in the value corporations place on social impact as opposed to profit. Similarly, Simon Zinger, General Counsel at Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), wrote an essay that outlines the importance for business leaders to pursue social change as well as bottom-line results.  Zinger wrote, “Leading for Change is essentially the use of leadership skills to pursue and achieve positive change across some of the most essential pillars of a modern and humane society.” 

Zinger himself has taken an active role in transforming the culture of his company, by aligning the legal department’s pro bono program with DAN’s CSR goals. DAN’s legal department created a pro bono program that engaged not only the department but also other business units of the corporation to tackle an access to justice issue: improving awareness of legal rights and sources of pro bono assistance. Miri Miller, Associate General Counsel and global pro bono program lead at DAN, credited much of the success of the integrated relationship to Zinger’s passion for pro bono work and commitment to impacting social change. In addition, Miller made special note of the enthusiasm she discovered when inquiring with non-legal department staff about collaborating on pro bono matters.

As seen at DAN, support for access to justice programs goes beyond just the legal profession. Evidence suggests that the general population supports equal access to civil justice under the law. In a 2017 report, the organization Voices for Civil Justice found that 84% of voters believe it is important for our democracy to ensure that everyone has access to the civil justice system. This finding indicates that support for access to justice goes beyond partisan ties. James Sandman, the President of the Legal Services Corporation, also urged that “it is important to remember that access to justice is not a partisan issue” in a 2016 end-of-year message.

As leaders look for ways to engage employees, including millennials, in a systemic and meaningful way, efforts to increase access to justice should be well received by legal and non-legal professionals alike. Evidence suggests that millennials have a deep interest in access to justice. The 2017 Millennial Impact Report, a study intended to capture and comprehend the generation’s cause engagement, reported that “Millennials are showing significantly increased interest in causes that impact minority, marginalized, or disenfranchised groups or people. Further, the report found that “Millennials are most interested in causes that promote equity, equality and opportunity.” By its very nature, pro bono work aims to assist poor and disadvantaged groups in their access to justice. Based on their core values and ideals, millennial attorneys and their colleagues may be drawn to pro bono legal services given the opportunity to work towards equal access to justice for marginalized groups.

As the influence of the Millennial Generation continues to promote the ideals of purpose and responsibility within the workplace, companies must adapt to accommodate this shift in values. Millennials seek to support those companies who share this sense of social conscience by patronizing them with their business and serving as dedicated and loyal employees. The integration of CSR and pro bono programs demonstrates a firm, and long-term, commitment to serving the needs of society. Given millennials’ heightened desire to help poor and marginalized groups, this generation will likely put great emphasis on these pro bono opportunities.

Such a relationship should ultimately prove beneficial for all parties involved. For companies, the collaboration allows them to take a more in-depth and systemic approach in addressing social justice issues they are concerned with, as well as help to facilitate a stronger sense of company-wide commitment to a mission or cause. For legal departments, collaboration with the company as a whole provides much-needed resources and support to fulfill pro bono program goals. With strong social responsibility programs being of critical importance to millennial workers, providing more opportunities for employees to get involved in relevant issues can help keep millennial employees satisfied and loyal. 

Corporate leaders, however, must be willing to undertake such systemic and impactful changes. While the notion of success may be changing, effectively engaging the Millennial Generation will be key to the survival of any company, firm, or organization in the years ahead.

Hat tip to PBI intern Drew Sovel for drafting this blog.

August 5, 2019

When In-House Pro Bono Programs Go Pro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Request PBI’s Paper on Professionalization of In-House Pro Bono

July 30, 2019

Human Trafficking and the Power of Pro Bono

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

Du Yun

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

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

The Misconceptions of Human Trafficking

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

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

The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Pro Bono Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

The rules covered in CPBO’s Guide include:

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

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

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

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

June 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more, visit

June 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Facts

Challenge goals that were met or exceeded in 2018:

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

Read the full report, or the summary report.

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

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