Many lawyers believe their firm is too small to have a formal pro bono program. In addition, many legal service providers think the firms in their service area have too few attorneys to make a meaningful pro bono commitment. Both are wrong!
While it’s true that small firms may not have the luxury of a full-time pro bono coordinator to coordinate referrals, vet and screen cases or a pro bono committee to provide mentorship and supervision, solo and small firm attorneys can participate in pro bono and do so every day. So, what’s their secret? With limited time and resources, lack of expertise and support staff, and sometimes no malpractice insurance, how do these practitioners realistically fit pro bono into their career and practice?
There are a few tips that enable small firm and solo practitioners to be effective and efficient in doing pro bono work. In fact, perhaps the bigger challenge to increasing pro bono involvement by these attorneys is in educating them about the resources and support (not to mention the benefits) available for providing pro bono services.
For starters, most pro bono and legal service organizations provide free training sessions and some states provide CLE credit for pro bono service. In addition, most programs offer malpractice coverage, reliable pre-screening of client financial eligibility and mentoring and co-counseling opportunities.
In addition, most legal service and pro bono programs offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities. For the time-pressed attorney, programs may offer discrete legal tasks such as initial consultation or limited representation (unbundled services). For lawyers who don’t want to go to court, many programs offer transactional projects such as assisting nonprofits that help underserved populations or micro entrepreneurs who qualify for service or are developing a needed business in a distressed area. Similarly, programs can coordinate general counsel relationships with a small non-profit that helps underserved populations.
Individuals wishing to volunteer can find pro bono opportunities by searching the National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide. The guide provides a state-by-state searchable list of organizations offering pro bono opportunities, including information on available support services, such as malpractice insurance.
Lawyers in small firm settings can support these efforts by participating in programs discussing best practices for encouraging pro bono and public service, recognizing lawyers’ participation through public service awards and highlighting achievements in various print and electronic publications.
If your small firm or solo practice participates in pro bono, tell us about it in the Comments below. If you’d like additional information about law firm pro bono or are interested in viewing sample small firm pro bono policies, contact me at Melanie.Kushnir (a) americanbar.org.
~ Melanie Kushnir