The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
December 13, 2022

Attorney Fee Awards in Pro Bono Cases

By Ciera Cockrell, PBI Intern

Pro bono work is essential to help meet the vast civil legal needs of under-resourced populations. While the primary goal of most attorneys engaged in pro bono litigation is certainly not to secure personal monetary gain, fee-shifting statutory provisions allow for monetary remuneration in the form of attorney fee awards. Securing these awards aids in encouraging law firms and other organizations to continue litigating public interest issues.

Trends show that many large firms who prevail in their pro bono cases and secure attorney fee awards donate part or all of that award to a non-profit organization involved in impacting a particular area of public interest. Some firms, like Latham & Watkins LLP, have created a charitable fund based on attorney fee awards they have received in pro bono cases. The donation of attorney fee awards allows non-profit organizations like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to continue funding and supporting public interest work.

But, some attorneys are facing difficulty securing appropriate attorney fee awards due to the pro bono nature of their legal representation.

In a U.S. District Court case for the Northern District of California, two inmates brought suit against the state to challenge a denial of their constitutional right.[1] One plaintiff had pro bono representation from a large law firm, and the other had pro bono representation from a smaller law firm. Both plaintiffs were successful on their constitutional claim. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure, both plaintiffs satisfied the requirements of the fee-shifting provision. Both counsels properly requested attorney fees calculated based on the lodestar method. The district court judge awarded the requested fees to the plaintiff represented by the smaller firm, but denied the requested fees to the plaintiff represented by the large firm.

The only distinctions between the two plaintiffs were: 1) the sizes of the law firms providing their individual pro bono counsel; and 2) the smaller firm’s engagement was structured as a contingency, while the larger firm’s engagement was structured as a pro bono matter that allowed for recovery of attorney fees if so ordered by the court. In denying the requested fees for this plaintiff aided by the larger firm, the judge reasoned that due to the large size and good reputation of the firm representing him, providing these free services would not “jeopardize the profitability of the firm.”[2] The plaintiff appealed the denial of attorney fees.

The Law Firm Pro Bono Project® was involved in preparing an amicus brief that challenged the denial of the fee award in concert with an appeal of the district court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[3] The brief highlighted that the judge’s decision was an abuse of discretion that contrasted with California case law. Pro bono status is not one of the factors to be considered in awarding fees, and therefore cannot be used to justify the reduction or denial of those fees.

Fortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court agreed with the plaintiff and the amici curiae, reversed and remanded the proceedings to the district court to award reasonable attorney fees.

Decisions denying attorney fee awards based on the pro bono nature of a case set a harmful precedent that public interest litigation is less valued than private interest and must largely rely on charitable work.

This erroneous reliance on pro bono status to justify the denial or reduction of requested attorney fees is unhappily not an isolated occurrence. Across several jurisdictions, pro bono attorneys have appealed decisions that denied them attorney fees because of their pro bono status.

case from the Court of Appeals of Michigan, for example, shows how the pro bono nature of the case distracted the judge such that he calculated the actual fees incurred instead of following the established rule of calculating reasonable fees for the services provided.[4] The court reasoned that since the legal representation was free, the plaintiffs did not incur any actual costs in paying attorney fees. The judge therefore denied the requested fee because no fees were actually paid.

The issue of actual fees, however, was not the issue before the court. Rather, the court should have calculated reasonable fees. Under the relevant state statutory provision, if the requested fees align with the reasonable hours and rates of similar legal services in the area, the judge must award the fee.[5] This holds true even in pro bono cases where no actual costs were incurred by the client.

This mistake of calculating actual fees instead of reasonable fees in pro bono cases has shown up across several jurisdictions in the last two years.

Mistakes like these and others that deny pro bono attorneys reasonable fees are potentially detrimental to the encouragement of law firms to continue engaging in public interest litigation. Realistically, not every firm, corporation, or organization has means to absorb the cost of litigation. Those that can often donate such awards to legal services organizations that are resource constrained.  Thus, denying fee awards in pro bono cases generally affects the volume and quality of pro bono services that can be rendered to those in need.

The Law Firm Pro Bono Project® encourages law firms participating in pro bono litigation to request reasonable attorney fees when applicable. Once the award is secured, PBI further encourages firms to donate at least part of that award to a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing a public interest.

For law firms seeking to secure attorney fee awards, be sure to familiarize yourself with how attorney fees are calculated in the relevant jurisdiction and under the relevant statute. If possible and applicable, consider including the following in your motion:

  1. Language that captures the distinction between calculating actual fees and calculating reasonable fees.
  2. Relevant case law that demonstrates that pro bono status is not a factor to be considered in awarding reasonable attorney fees.
  3. A non-profit organization or cause that your firm will be donating part or all of the award to. Courts tend to look favorably upon these types of donations.

For more information, contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project at lawfirm@probonoinst.org


[1] Cisneros v. Vangilder, No. 21-15363, No. 21-15405, 2022 WL 1500805, at *1 (9th Cir. May 12, 2022).

[2] Id. at *2.

[3] Brief for Pro Bono Inst. et al. as Amici Curiae Supporting Appellant, Cisneros v. Vangilder, No. 21-15363, No. 21-15405, 2022 WL 1500805, at *1 (9th Cir. May 12, 2022).

[4] Woodman v. Dep’t of Corr., No. 353164, No. 353165, 2021 WL 2619705, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. June 24, 2001).

[5] Id. at *4.

November 8, 2022

Government Lawyer Pro Bono 

by Cynthia Montoya

On August 16, 2022, the Pro Bono Legal Representation Expansion Amendment Act of 2022 went into effect in Washington, DC, permitting local government lawyers to participate in pro bono subject to certain restrictions. This legal change in our hometown inspired PBEye to do a deeper dive on government lawyer pro bono.

Pro bono work is an ethical obligation that should be easily accessible for every legal professional, including those who work in all levels of the government. Yet, participating in pro bono work can be complicated for some government lawyers. Some offices have policies restricting the type of pro bono work government lawyers can participate in, while others lack easily accessible and straightforward guidelines on what is appropriate work for government lawyers. 

The primary guideline for government lawyers is generally that they can participate in appropriate pro bono opportunities that do not impose conflicts of interest (or perceived conflicts) with their day jobs. They can provide legal services during their own time outside of the office, and they cannot use government resources to provide services. They must be aware of possible conflicts of interest. Further, policies often restrict the type of pro bono work that government lawyers can do. 

The American Bar Association (ABA) and The Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division created  a guide for government lawyers called the Pro Bono Project Development: A Deskbook For Government and Public Sector Lawyers. The deskbook was published in 1998, and is currently undergoing revisions. The deskbook helps explain the restrictions that government lawyers face. For example, judicial branch lawyers have restrictions to maintain an unbiased environment while doing pro bono work. Therefore, such lawyers could not use their titles, resources from work, or office space to do pro bono work. Government lawyers can only offer their expertise during their personal time to organizations and clinics after it is approved by the head of their department. 

For decades, federal government lawyers advocated for the right to do pro bono work, and that paid off in 1996 with Executive Order 12988, which directed federal agencies to develop policies for volunteer work, including legal pro bono. The Interagency Pro Bono Working Group, which is the steering committee for the Federal Government Pro Bono Program, developed pro bono policies and now serves as a resource on federal attorney pro bono work. More than fifty agencies participate and most have written pro bono policies to for their attorneys and legal staff.  The Program operates in Washington, DC, Maryland, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Dallas.  Example of federal agencies that participate in pro bono include the Department of Justice, and the Internal Revenue Service.  

Some states and local counties have followed the lead of the federal government by creating policies and programs to permit government lawyers and legal staff to participate in appropriate pro bono work, including: 

  • Washington, DC. DC recently passed a law allowing government employees to do pro bono work before any DC court, DC agency, federal court, or federal agency if it does not create a conflict of interest, authorized by an employer, and through an approved organization. This program builds on work by the Office of the Attorney General of DC, which adopted a pro bono program several years ago.
  • West Virginia. In West Virginia, a policy permits government lawyers to do pro bono to fulfill their responsibilities under Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1.  Examples of permissible work include providing brief advice to people of limited means in family law cases, domestic violence protective order cases, landlord/tenant disputes, public benefits and veterans’ benefits cases, consumer protection and bankruptcy; drafting wills, handling simple probates, drafting guardianships; assisting a non-profit organization in the process of incorporation and filing for 501(c)(3) status; and volunteering through West Virginia Free Legal Answers.
  •  Pennsylvania.  The Pennsylvania Bar Association has a Government Lawyers Committee alongside the Pennsylvania Bar Institute co-sponsors, “To Help or Not To Help: Pro-Bono Work for Government Attorneys.” This training discusses the types of legal and non-legal pro bono work government lawyers can do. 
  • Baltimore County, Maryland.  The Office of Law Pro Bono Program has a “Public Lawyers Pro Bono Program” where lawyers can take on pro bono cases on their own time by referral to the office, in the areas of divorce, custody, child support, and bankruptcy, and drafting of simple wills and general powers of attorney. They only accept referrals from Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and Legal Aid Bureau, Incorporated.

We hope that more state and local jurisdictions will put clear policies in place to maximize the opportunities for government lawyer pro bono.  These lawyers know the communities they serve and have personal knowledge of the many issues affecting low-income and underserved communities. Having clear guidelines and policies will allow government lawyers and legal staff easy access to volunteer to use their unique skills to give back to their local communities.

October 18, 2022

2022 National Celebration of Pro Bono 

by Cynthia Montoya, PBI Intern

With Pro Bono Week right around the corner, now is a great time to solidify longstanding partnerships and make new connections that can inspire pro bono throughout the year! On October 23-29, 2022, the legal community will come together to participate in the American Bar Association (ABA) National Celebration of Pro Bono. The programs and events planned during this week present a great way to get involved in the community, meet new colleagues, and give back through pro bono service. The annual celebration highlights the hard work of legal staff, law students, and lawyers partaking in impactful pro bono work nationwide. Through the national celebration and many parallel local events, there are many opportunities to get involved in-person or virtually.  

Participating in pro bono has many benefits for the communities where the work is being done. Yet, it is also an opportunity to connect with other legal professionals through pro bono teamwork. By joining community-wide pro bono events, volunteers can meet other legal professionals with similar pro bono interests. This is particularly true this year, as more in-person events are being hosted since the start of the pandemic!

The theme for the 2022 National Celebration of Pro Bono is “Law in Everyday Life,” highlighting how legal assistance can help low-income individuals and other marginalized people in all aspects of life. This year’s theme is structured for legal professionals to focus on local needs, local programs, and local issues, with the purpose of furthering a unified effort to provide access to justice for low-income people and individuals in vulnerable communities post-covid. 

There will be events honoring the pro bono work being done throughout the country, and opportunities for training and service in various areas of pro bono.  Multiple events are being hosted throughout the nation by local bar associations, firms, and organizations celebrating Pro Bono week through clinics, training, and other events nationwide, including these examples:

  • legal clinic conducting survey calls to North Carolina drivers who have received tailored advice letters from the center to restore their licenses after being suspended, a clinic hosted by the NC Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC), and staffed by UNC law students.
  • CLE training provides attendees an overview of what is involved in representing a client with an asylum proceeding (in a detention center, in court, or before USCIS) in San Diego, California, hosted by Casa Cornelia Law Center. 
  • recruitment event, where over 40 of Chicago’s legal aid, pro bono, community service, and mentoring organizations will meet in a virtual event on how to make a difference in Chicago, Illinois, hosted by the Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Bar Foundation.
  • Clinics throughout the state of Louisiana will provide Ask-a-Lawyer Consultations in libraries hosted by the Louisiana State Bar Association.

You can learn about more events and opportunities being hosted nationwide through this event map and calendar

In Washington, D.C., the Washington Council of Lawyers is hosting its annual DC Pro Bono Week from October 23-29, concurrently with the ABA celebration. They are hosting events throughout the whole month with opportunities to join either in-person or virtually. These are only some of the many local events happening in DC: 

  • The Washington Council of Lawyers kicks off the Pro Bono Week celebration with Pro Bono Goes Local, featuring guest speakers Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby from the D.C. Court of Appeals and Chief Judge Josey-Herring from the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. 

All events in DC Pro Bono Week are free but require registration. 

There are also affiliated trainings happening before and after DC Pro Bono Week as another way to get involved, including:

  • Trauma-Informed Lawyering is a training to educate about the effects of trauma on survivors, the impact of their legal goals, and tips on how to navigate communication with a client in an informed manner.
  • TzedekDC Debt Collection Defense Training will train volunteers to assist residents in the DC area, primarily east of the river, with legal assistance, and empower and inform people on navigating the legal system.

Pro Bono Week is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in pro bono work, whether you are jumpstarting a new project, or reengaging in a longstanding project. It’s a chance to learn about and train in different areas of pro bono that can be continued into the following year. So find an event near you, and make an important contribution to your community!

If there is any Pro Bono Week event happening that you would love to share with us or tell us about your experience, let us know at pbi@probonoinst.org.

September 19, 2022

1.9 million and counting: An Immigration Update & Pro Bono Opportunities

By Noor Khan, PBI Intern

In the fiscal year 2022, there were 1,917,464 active immigration court cases backlogged in the United States, the largest in this country’s history.  This backlog includes most of the new deportation cases of 2022 (in the first two months of 2022 alone there were 310,658  proceedings filed in the United States). Through a combination of immigration court closures, shutdowns of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices, and the implementation of Title 42 which permits expulsion of many asylum seekers to Mexico, many of these cases can be attributed to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic

Immigration case backlogs leave individuals in a state of uncertainty for years, with ramifications for themselves, their families, and the U.S. immigration system at large. This country’s immigration dilemma has dire implications for asylum seekers, immigrants residing in the U.S., and immigrants abroad. Lengthy waits for immigration court hearings leave vulnerable groups unprotected and those ineligible for asylum knowing their case is years off. Many immigrants in the United States have been forced out of their jobs (despite a national labor shortage) due to delays in the approval of work authorization documents. Migrants waiting abroad for interviews continue to be separated by their family based in the U.S and face the loss of job and educational opportunities. 

As The PBEye covered in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated backlogs and bottlenecks within the immigration system. The pandemic also posed another obstacle for immigrants when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) implemented U.S. health law- section 265 of Title 42. Due to the pandemic, the CDC recommended that the number of migrants allowed into the country be limited. Consequently as of March 2020, Title 42 has been in effect, allowing for the immediate expulsion of migrants and asylum seekers at U.S borders, used to expel migrants more than 1.9 million times. Despite CDC announcement on April 1st, 2022 that “an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary,” Title 42 remains in place pursuant to a court order blocking the policy’s termination.

The past two-plus years have been a difficult time for everyone, but the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted migrants and those involved in the immigration process. Further proven by the 2022 PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge Report, where 95.8%  of the firms surveyed stated they provided COVID-19 related services in the past year. 

In addition to those difficulties, in the United States immigrants do not have access to appointed counsel. Because deportation is technically a civil sanction, immigrants are not given constitutional protections under the Sixth Amendment (unlike defendants in the criminal legal process). Both the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. policies have added to the critical need for pro bono legal assistance for immigrants in the United States. 

Given this situation, there are many ways to get involved in immigration pro bono work.  Here are some recent examples:

Kirkland & Ellis*, in partnership with Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), has worked to provide pro bono counsel to immigrant families in need. In their partnership, the two groups coordinate a pro bono legal effort to help Ukrainian refugees in the U.S. as they seek temporary protected status (TPS), an immigration status that allows them to stay in the country until at least October 2023. Over 2,200 pro bono lawyers have been matched with Ukrainian refugees as they apply for TPS.

Amazon** attorneys in partnership with DLA Piper* and PILnet is leading a pro bono humanitarian initiative. The three groups work to provide free, comprehensive, legal guidebooks for refugees in Europe looking to seek asylum. The guidebooks provide information on how to apply for permits, find housing, access mental and child services, and answer legal questions. 

The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project presented the 2022 Pro Bono Detention award to Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy. The firm was recognized for its work ensuring detained asylum-seekers receive counsel before immigration court, and for assisting immigrants transferred from southern border ICE facilities to the New England region. Fragomen is also partnered with New York City Bar’s Immigrant Justice Project and the Safe Passage Project in New York City to help immigrant children and asylum seekers through matching them with pro bono attorneys and providing guidance throughout representation. 

Jenner & Block* have devoted thousands of hours to asylum, immigration, and trafficking matters. They are working with 50 lawyers across Jenner & Block, as well as an immigration firm in the U.K., to assist nearly 30 human rights defenders trapped in Afghanistan. The firm has also had a recent success in a life-saving result in a pro bono asylum case. The team represented a Nicaraguan political activist and local opposition party official and her 14-year-old daughter. The judge granted both clients asylum, with the government waiving appeal.

If your firm or legal department is interested in pro bono work serving immigrants during COVID-19, there are many resources and opportunities for remote pro bono work, including the following:

The American Bar Association (ABA) launched a pro bono pilot, the Immigration Justice Project (IJP). The IJP aims to increase access to counsel for immigrants and offer legal representation that produces  more fair, efficient, accurate, and consistent results. The IJP trains and mentors volunteer attorneys to aid both detained and non-detained immigrants to increase access to justice for indigent immigrants. To volunteer, click here.

The Immigration Justice Campaign, connects a network of pro bono allies to serve detained immigrants who would otherwise have no legal representation. The Immigration Justice Campaign provides volunteers with training, tools, and resources to help break down policies that dehumanize and harm immigrant communities. To volunteer, click here

The Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA) is a legal resource center created by the American Bar Association (ABA) to provide advocates for children as they go through complex legal procedures. CILA serves in the nonprofit and pro bono legal sector to advance the rights of immigrant youth seeking protection through training and collaboration. To volunteer, click here.

The South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) offers immigrants legal education, access to representation, and connections to different legal services. ProBAR serves immigrants that are in the Rio Grande Valley border region, focusing on aiding the legal needs of adults and unaccompanied children detained or in federal custody. For more information, click here

Are you working on immigration pro bono matters?  Tell The PBEye about it at pbi@probonoinst.org

August 11, 2022

Ghostwriting Can Increase Pro Bono and Expand Access to Justice

By Kelsey Hunt, PBI Law Clerk    

Ghostwriting is a form of limited scope representation that allows attorneys to draft or assist in drafting a pleading, motion, or other document filed by a pro se party without entering an appearance or engaging in formal representation. Many low- and modest-income parties litigate pro se because they cannot afford the high price of full-scale representation. Ghostwriting increases their access to justice by allowing them to receive some legal assistance and more effectively advocate their position during litigation.

Ghostwriting can also expand pro bono work by providing meaningful opportunities for attorneys seeking to do pro bono. Ghostwriting is accomplished with less time and resources and is an ideal project for busy attorneys to take on. Attorneys can provide limited assistance by drafting a document or helping to complete a form and have a large impact on a pro se litigant. 

Ghostwriting is beneficial to pro se parties who need legal assistance, attorneys who need bite-sized pro bono opportunities, and courts who benefit from well-argued pro se pleadings that follow court rules and efficiently express legal positions. 

Allowing attorneys to provide ghostwriting services without requiring them to disclose their assistance or identity makes it more likely they will provide this service pro bono. Attorneys may fear disclosure will impose broad responsibilities on them, both ethically and procedurally, and they may be uncomfortable identifying themselves on a document when they are not in control of the final product.  

Still there are many who oppose undisclosed ghostwriting, questioning the professional ethics of attorneys who engage in the practice, and contending that it is misleading to courts, which apply a more lenient pleading standard to pro se parties.  

Nevertheless, many jurisdictions favor permitting undisclosed ghostwriting, because they recognize that it is unlikely a ghostwritten document will materially mislead the court or that pro se parties will receive undue benefit. Ghostwritten documents are easy to spot when compared with usual pro se pleadings, so courts will likely recognize them, and an attorney’s name or bar number is not needed to ensure that they do. If the court does not recognize that an attorney assisted the pro se litigant, then the litigant likely gained no benefit from the attorney’s limited service.

Jurisdictions have varying rules on ghostwriting. The American Bar Association (ABA)’s Ethics Opinion on the matter takes a permissive approach and permits ghostwriting without any required form of disclosure. Some jurisdictions follow this approach, acknowledging the benefits that ghostwriting provides pro se parties, while other jurisdictions are more restrictive, requiring full disclosure of the identity of the attorney who provided assistance. Most federal courts that have addressed the issue fall on the more restrictive side. A few jurisdictions fall in between and require anonymous disclosure (indicating that an attorney provided support, but not identifying the attorney) or disclosure of substantial assistance. Some jurisdictions have not addressed the ghostwriting issue and have no guiding policy. The wide variety of ghostwriting rules means that access to this form of legal assistance is unequal across the country. 

To learn more about how ghostwriting increases access to justice for otherwise self-represented litigants, and for a review of the rules and ethics opinions on ghostwriting across all fifty states and the District of Columbia, please see our guide here.

July 14, 2022

2022 FIPBD: Impact Around the Globe

The third annual Financial Institution Pro Bono Day (FIPBD) was the biggest yet and provided pro bono services across the globe! FIPBD was organized by Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO®), a project of Pro Bono Institute® (PBI), to spotlight the severe gap in legal services for underserved individuals and promote in-house pro bono collaboration in partnership with law firms and legal services organizations.

On the day of service, April 28, 2022, more than 1100 in-house volunteers from 35 financial institutions participated. The FIPBD partners organized both virtual and in-person pro bono events that addressed diverse issues ranging from homelessness to transgender name changes, to life planning for veterans, to green card assistance for domestic violence survivors, to advancing racial justice and serving communities of color, and many more. The volunteers served over 1000 clients, with an expectation that many more clients will receive services as a result of trainings that were held as part of FIPBD. At several events, volunteers developed new resources for a nonprofit or NGO that will use the resources to serve additional beneficiaries.

FIPBD was originally conceived as an opportunity for legal departments in a common industry to collaborate on pro bono, and the goal is to include institutions throughout the United States and globally. This year, we saw incredible volunteer engagement at two global multi-institution events – one in-person and one remote. We spoke with the event organizers about their keys to successful FIPBD planning. 

In London, the In-House Pro Bono Group and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP organized an all-day, in-person event in which nearly 100 in-house volunteers from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup**, Credit Suisse, Barclays Bank PLC**, BNY Mellon, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America** participated.

The event was organized by Deborah Smith of Goldman Sachs, and Robert Powell of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. The participating organizations are involved in the “In-House Pro Bono Group” in the UK, where Deborah serves as founder and member of the steering committee. Deborah thought that FIPBD was a perfect way to bring the group together for the first time in-person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She recalled reaching out to Rob about the idea, saying, “I called Rob and the next thing I know he had sent over a massive spreadsheet of things we could do and said that he booked the law society for us, and it took off from there.” 

The morning sessions supported Dress for Success Greater London for women who are long-term unemployed and have faced difficult circumstances. The aim was to equip the women with the skills and confidence to re-enter the workplace and secure meaningful employment. The afternoon sessions supported UnLtd. Social Enterprise Support for innovative social entrepreneurs to meet, connect and network with lawyers and professionals to seek guidance and grow their enterprise through an onsite legal clinic addressing “topic tasters” like governance, trading subsidiaries, managing volunteers. Both morning and afternoon sessions were extremely successful, supporting over 60 clients in total. 

The day was not only beneficial for the clients served, but also for the participating volunteers. Deborah and Rob implemented strategies to increase volunteer engagement and reduce barriers to participation. They hosted the event at the historic Reading Room at the Law Society in the heart of London. The location was easily accessible, while the history and beauty of the Reading Room provided extra incentive for volunteers to attend. The event was also broken up into one hour time blocks, which made the time-commitment less daunting to busy attorneys. Volunteers were allowed to stay for as many time blocks as their schedule allowed. Deborah said there were several attorneys who signed up to volunteer for a morning session and were enjoying their experience so much that they ended up staying on all day!

Volunteers were given several networking opportunities throughout the day, which is another great way to increase attendance. Goldman and Weil Gotshal provided lunch for both in-house volunteers and clients, and networking drinks for the volunteers at the conclusion of the day. This can give the event a more festive feel and is a nice thank-you to volunteers for participating. Phillip Springford, a volunteer from Goldman Sachs expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the day of service, saying, “It was a fantastic opportunity for people interested in pro bono to get involved with. Rob and Deborah organized it very well, which made a huge difference.”

In a similar vein, Julia Gilfillan at Accenture** and Erica Blau at American International Group, Inc. (AIG)** partnered with Baker McKenzie* to provide multiple virtual opportunities that engaged volunteers around the globe: three Justice-in-Action sprints garnered 190 volunteers from Accenture**, AIG**, American Express, Aon Corporation**, and JPMorgan Chase. 

The three opportunities focused on human rights issues, a topic that AIG and Accenture in-house volunteers have historically been interested in and were offered in time zones accommodating both North America/Latin America and EMEA volunteers. The accessibility of these projects was intentional; Julia noted that AIG and Accenture wanted to make it feasible to volunteer in any location. 

Additionally, both felt it was important to focus on a “the more, the merrier” mentality for the events. This meant sharing the events early and often with more than just AIG and Accenture’s internal departments. Julia and Erica focused on leveraging relationships with previous pro bono partners and contacts with whom they had worked before in other contexts and sending multiple reminders about participating both via email and at planning meetings. 

When creating teams for the projects, Erica and Julia paired in-house volunteers across institutions. This allowed for networking opportunities through the volunteering itself and points to a broader trend of the importance of partnering with outside institutions. Erica noted that in-house legal departments are in a unique position to team up and provide meaningful and impactful pro bono work. There is power in numbers! 

Both groups are already looking forward to making the #FIPBD2023 event bigger and better, with a hopeful eye on even more in-person opportunities! We are, too. Save the date for Thursday, April 27, 2023. If you would like assistance planning your FIPBD events, please reach out to CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

June 29, 2022

Corporate Pro Bono Publishes New Metrics Resource

Metrics pose a perennial challenge for tracking in-house legal departments’ pro bono programs. To assist departments, PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO) recently published the Corporate Pro Bono Metrics Guide as part of its continuing development of effective tools for measurement and assessment of in-house pro bono. 

Capturing metrics can enable a pro bono program to convey the value and importance of pro bono to volunteers, the institutions for which they work, and the individuals and communities being served. Regular and ongoing assessments of in-house pro bono practice provide a way to evaluate and improve the legal services delivered as well as the pro bono program itself. 

Understandably, a robust metrics program may not be the focus of new in-house pro bono efforts—but early insights can help pro bono programs thrive, and initial efforts can be designed for future scalability. CPBO’s guide is intended to aid these departments in addition to more mature in-house programs that may use the guide to supplement their understanding of metrics, data collection, and use of metrics to amplify their pro bono programs. 

The Guide outlines why departments should track metrics; what measurements departments should consider tracking; and how departments can track them.  It outlines the benefits of data-based evaluation on a legal department’s pro bono program and its impact on the community, noting that tracking the right information creates a useful roadmap for future engagement and leverages a legal department’s resources to meet needs efficiently. Data collection is the foundation for an organized, manageable, and well-integrated in-house pro bono program.

What best practices have you seen at your department regarding metrics? Leave a comment to share your experience or reach out to us directly! CPBO is available to provide tailored assistance to in-house legal departments in addressing metrics questions. Please contact us at cpbo@probonoinst.org to schedule a confidential consultation or if you have any questions. 

May 19, 2022

CPBO Organizes GCs and CLOs to Support LSC Funding

by Noor Khan, PBI Intern

For the sixth year in a row, legal department leaders are speaking out to support increased funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States.

Pro Bono Institute® (PBI®) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono® (CPBO®), worked in partnership with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) to invite General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers to sign a letter asking Congress to approve $700 million in funding for LSC for Fiscal Year 2023. 

A notable group of 162 GCs and CLOs signed a letter of support for increased funding for LSC FY2023, which was delivered to Congress on May 17, 2022. Joining in this effort were corporations and legal departments from a vast range of sectors, industries, sizes, and locations. Beyond the GC and CLO signatories, this matter has garnered attention and support from other organizations and news outlets, urging Congress to increase LSC funding. However, the support of the business community is especially critical to demonstrate that access to legal services is necessary to ensure healthy communities, sound institutions, and rule of law.

In a time where 92% of low-income Americans do not receive legal help for their substantive legal issues, often due to a shortage of legal aid lawyers, LSC-funded legal services organizations provide critical civil legal assistance to families across the country. LSC provides resources and financial support to 132 legal aid organizations that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments. Despite the tremendous need for legal services and the inequities in accessing justice, LSC has been routinely underfunded and under-resourced. 

Historically, the support of American corporate leaders has proved to have a positive impact on the allocation of funds for LSC. Between FY2021 and FY2022, LSC saw an increase of $24 million in funding. Congress allocated an additional $50 million in supplementary emergency funding in light of the difficulties raised by Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, this is still not enough. According to the LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap Report, LSC-funded organizations areunable to provide any or enough legal help for 71% of the civil legal problems brought to them; this translates to an estimated 1.4 million problems over the course of a year.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the problem of insufficient legal aid has become more acute, making the continued support of LSC’s efforts more important than ever. Just this past year, one third of low-income Americans suffered from legal issues linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The top reported areas of legal were housing, health care, personal safety, and consumer problems; those most likely to experience a pandemic-related problem were from households with children, single parents, and those struggling with substance abuse. Yet, only 19% of Americans near or below the poverty line sought help for their legal issues, listing cost as one of the top barriers. The pandemic has only made the situation more critical. 

For FY2023, LSC has requested $1.26 billion in funding, which is $245 million more than last year’s request. This increase will enable LSC to achieve two goals: 1) to reduce the justice gap by 75% and 2) to increase their Basic Field Grants by 70% to account for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

CPBO is proud to support this effort to secure funding for LSC and thanks the GCs and CLOs for demonstrating their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services. For more information, please contact CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org

March 29, 2022

Homelessness & Housing Justice

by PBI intern Isabella Brill

Last month when the Super Bowl was held at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, a sudden move to shut down a nearby homeless encampment focused the public’s attention on a longstanding issue — homelessness. In the past year, homelessness has become an important topic amongst state and city leaders in Los Angeles, where the population has increased to over sixty thousand people in Los Angeles County. This estimate includes people that are unhoused and live amongst the street. However, it could be much larger due to the difficulty in finding and counting homeless people, and multiple delays in the annual point-in-time count due to COVID-19. The homeless population lacks funds for basic necessities, medical care, and legal needs. Of course, Los Angeles is only one example of a city facing a crisis in homelessness in recent months.

An Eye toward Housing Justice

As previously covered in The PBEye’s recent article about the Homeless Court Movement, some homeless individuals are facing charges against them that essentially criminalizes being homeless. Organizations such as the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty are establishing homeless courts to deliver legal aid. The courts are a step in the right direction for helping the homeless population, especially veterans still facing legal issues, but do not address the root causes of homelessness or the immediate solutions of seeking shelter. Another article concerning COVID-19 and Housing Insecurity discusses how COVID-19 has increased the need for affordable housing due to millions suffering. The pandemic has led to multiple pieces of legislation passed to address the issues of decreasing wages and increasing need for cheaper housing. Additionally, this blog has suggested More Ways to Combat Homelessness by using pro bono and advocacy projects that dedicate time and effort into this issue. These articles and more include detailed information, including ways to increase housing justice through pro bono. This article builds on our past reporting to address the issue of housing the homeless.

Addressing the Issue of Housing the Homeless

A number of proposals have been put forward in LA County that illustrate potential pathways for change. Some leaders and candidates pledge to end homeless encampments and house thousands of people in shelters, while others argue that forcing people into shelters does not always suit their needs. Earlier this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a $2 billion plan to build tiny homes and shelters that would build connections to essential services such as medical care. This would set up almost 44,000 beds in an attempt to remove homeless camps off the sides of the street and move people into a temporary shelter where they can progress. 

In addition to proposals from city and state leaders, a coalition of labor unions, housing advocates and progressive activists are petitioning for a ballot measure in the upcoming 2022 election that would increase taxes on real estate transactions to allocate money for permanent housing for the homeless. This “United to House L.A.” proposed ballot initiative, which needs a simple majority vote to pass, would place a 4% tax on properties above $5 million. Historically, voters in LA have supported funding housing for the homeless, including by passing Proposition HHH, which consisted of a 1.2 billion dollar bond to fund homeless housing in 2016, and passing Measure H in 2017, which involved a 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase. 

Lawyers and law firms together have played a role in addressing this issue as well. On February 15, 2022, in a lawsuit over the homeless encampments filed by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter ruled that there must be a mandatory settlement conference where LA city and county officials construct a solution to this ongoing problem of homelessness. Some have argued that the solution should be up to state and city leaders to decide considering the upcoming election, but the federal judge pointed to lack of accountability with regard to the prior Proposition HHH. 

Pro Bono Opportunities to Help Address Homelessness

Pro bono is a great way to address homelessness and contribute to society. In Los Angeles, the Inner City Law Center provides pro bono opportunities such as eviction defense, homeless veterans project, housing litigation, citation clearing, policy and litigation research and advocacy, and specialty consultations. They also offer pro bono training for those eager to volunteer for efforts to serve one of the largest homeless populations in this country. In 2020, they accumulated over 15,000 hours of support and over 575 volunteers which was equivalent to 7 million dollars. 

Another pro bono source is the Legal Aid Foundation in Los Angeles. They need pro bono assistance with fee waivers, pre-screened cases, self-help, client intake, legal clinics, and support on cases on the homeless and their legal issues. Their priorities are the people of Los Angeles and to achieve equal justice through either direct representation, community education or adjusting the system. Their foundation has supported this cause for almost 90 years and will continue to fight for the homeless.

Beyond Los Angeles, the need for volunteers throughout the nation to aid the homeless is constant. One example is the Homeless Persons Representation Project Inc. (HPRP), which is Maryland’s only legal service dedicated to the homeless. Not only do they offer free legal services involving counsel, education, advice and representation, but also they deliver these services through shelters, soup kitchens, welfare offices and community services to cater to their clientele. They have special projects involving economic justice, veterans’ legal assistance, a homeless youth initiative, housing justice, and reducing barriers to housing and employment involving criminal records. These projects will help combat the homelessness problem in their area. 

Another organization is the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Legal Assistance Project, which has volunteer attorneys and paralegals help secure shelter, obtain housing subsidies, family support in emergency situations of future homelessness, homeless disability assistance and food assistance. They also work on policy initiatives to ensure clients’ rights and clarify government and contractor responsibilities while also maintaining a healthy environment in Washington D.C. The outcome has been around $9 million in value of legal services in 2020.

In 15 cities across the U.S., Project H.E.L.P (Homeless Experience Legal Protection) assists the homeless. This program is growing with locations in over six states. They have partnerships across the country to appeal to a larger audience. This organization addresses the issues of identification documents, child custody issues, child support issues, creditor law, disability law, driver license suspensions, government benefits, immigration law, housing issues, landlord/tenant law and minor criminal or traffic violations. They provide all of these with the determination of following through for quality assurance. 

Additionally, the National Homeless Law Center supplies pro bono work for the homeless at a national level with almost 3.5 million individuals assisted by this center. This center advocates for housing, decriminalizing the homeless, youth and education rights and surplus properties. They address these topics in detail and need help from volunteers that are interested and want to either develop, maintain or oversee these projects. These pro bono opportunities are beneficial to society as a whole and cannot be done by city and state leaders. Volunteer lawyers can have just as great of an impact when it comes to reassuring those in distress and supporting their legal needs as best as they can. 

Those that are homeless can also be hopeless. They have potentially lost everything they valued and are underrepresented amongst those who have the power to make a change. Lawyers have been and are able to aid those in need of legal services before it’s too late. Advocating for better public policies, as well as volunteering your time to provide direct legal services, are important ways to get involved on this critical issue. Volunteering can provide great practice for your future career, but can also have a life-changing impact on an individual or family in a time of need. 

Learn More about Housing Justice with PBI!

The 2022 Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference will feature a session at its Virtual Program that discusses pro bono attorney involvement in housing issues. The session, titled “Housing Justice Collaborative: Building Pro Bono Capacity to Help the Most Vulnerable Tenants,” will address how pro bono attorneys can help vulnerable tenants to keep them in their homes, building on a case study in Orange County, California. It involves knowledgeable speakers from Community Legal Aid SoCal and pro bono attorneys, answering important questions about serving underserved communities with regard to housing justice. Come learn with us on April 7 by registering for the Conference here.

March 23, 2022

Over Three Dozen Corporate Legal Department Leaders Urge Congress to Support EQUAL Defense Act

This month, Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), have worked with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association to rally the support of more than three dozen legal department leaders behind the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act of 2021 through a successful letter campaign.  The act, formally introduced to Congress as H.R.1408 in February of 2021, aims to establish pay parity between defenders and prosecutors via a federal grant program that would invest $250 million annually to reduce the immense public defender workloads across state, local, and tribal systems. 

Last week an influential group of 37 corporate general counsel (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs) representing numerous industries signed the March 18, 2022 letter addressed to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary in support of the EQUAL Defense Act.

The letter, sent to Congress on National Public Defender Day, highlights the critical role public defenders occupy in the justice system in addition to the shortcomings of the system that negatively impact access to equal justice under the law.  The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 373 U.S. 335 (1963) declared that states are required to appoint attorneys for individuals accused of serious crimes in state courts who cannot afford to retain counsel on their own. However, the public defender system has remained under-funded and over-worked, resulting in tremendous workloads and gaps in access to counsel.[1]  The standards for public defense lies with the states, and often smaller jurisdictions, which has led to disparities in the quality of and access to representation for those who rely on public defenders.  The EQUAL Defense Act seeks to remedy this by committing federal government funding and trainings for public defense services, to address these disparities as a matter of public policy.

PBI and CPBO thank the GCs and CLOs for their support of the EQUAL Defense Act of 2021 and their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services.  For more information, please contact CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org.

Thank you to PBI intern Sara Epstein for writing this blog.


[1]  National Legal Aid & Defender Association. (February 2022). Federal Support for Improving Public Defense Quality: The EQUAL Defense Act (CAC Policy Issue Update). NLADA.org. https://www.nlada.org/sites/default/files/Issue%20Brief%20-%20Equal%20Defense%20Act%20%28Feb%202022%29.pdf

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