Pro Bono Community Profiles: Maureen Syracuse, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program

In part two of this week’s post we highlight Maureen Syracuse’s response to questions about volunteer recruitment and best practices for pro bono managers:

Advice and Counsel for Pro Bono Managers

Many pro bono coordinators and directors struggle with how to recruit attorneys as well as how to minimize fear of the unknown among volunteers. What have you found to be most effective in combating these issues?

I believe there are three ways to most effectively combat this problem. First, at the DC Bar Pro Bono Program, we have experienced lawyers on staff and we also recruit mentors from the legal services community. These mentors are knowledgeable and demonstrate to volunteers that they are capable of providing quality support.

Second, because our program is attached to the DC Bar we feel that it is our responsibility to introduce people to pro bono work. Therefore our program is designed to provide mentoring and support envisioning that the typical volunteer is someone with no previous relevant experience at all.

Third, nothing is better than using a volunteer who has already done what you are asking the new volunteer to do and can tell them about their positive experience.  At the DC Bar Pro Bono Program we have a committee of volunteers who engage in recruitment for us through a peer-to-peer process. In this way we have participants selling the idea to other participants.  The committee also serves as the operating committee and provides day to day leadership for our program. Jim Sandman, the current President of the Legal Services Corporation, also currently serves as the chair of this DC Bar volunteer committee.

Based on your personal experience or what you have seen as a peer consultant with the Center for Pro Bono, what do you see as the biggest obstacles pro bono coordinators/directors encounter?

Sometimes people tend to think of pro bono as something separate and optional, but it needs to be a part of the whole delivery model of a legal services program and it needs to be supported by everyone in the organization. A successful pro bono program needs support from the Executive Director as well as the Managing Attorneys as to how pro bono is going to be integrated into program services. Pro bono should not be seen as an add-on but rather as a resource that ought to be thought about strategically when considering the best ways to meet critical client needs that are identified as priorities. A program also needs to figure out how to refresh pro bono resources or augment them; it’s an ongoing process. The pro bono program can not just be one person’s responsibility. There are a lot of aspects to having an effective pro bono community and different people play different roles in making that happen.

~ Adrienne Packard

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