It Starts At The Top

Yesterday the ABA celebrated the end of our internal pro bono challenge for lawyers on staff. It was fun and exciting to see the finale of a project that helped facilitate new interest in pro bono and to recognize those who continually honor the legal profession by giving of their time and talent to those most in need. While listening to comments from our Executive Director, Jack Rives, I was reminded of how important it is to have support from upper management for a strong pro bono culture to thrive. This applies not only to organizations with in-house legal departments but also to law firms large and small, government offices – any setting in which lawyers are employed. Without the proper support from those with authority within an organization, meaningful growth in the number of attorneys who provide pro bono is unlikely.

Current economic pressure to produce both financial and substantive outcomes make it increasingly difficult for many attorneys to obtain the support for committing a significant amount of time to pro bono work. Despite the tough economy, however, there remain companies and organizations where support from the leadership fosters a climate that encourages increased pro bono participation among staff. This year, the ABA will recognize both a law firm and a judicial circuit with the annual ABA Pro Bono Publico Award. Both award recipients serve as an excellent examples of how support from the top increases pro bono participation overall. In the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division 4th Department, pro bono encouragement from the judiciary resulted in over 200 pro bono cases handled by appellate government attorneys. In 2011 Akin Gump attorneys devoted over 67,000 hours during the 815 pro bono cases handled throughout the firm. Neither of these achievements would have been possible without a strong commitment to pro bono from the leadership.

How has support from upper management, your local judiciary or leaders in your community impacted the pro bono climate in your community? Share your experiences in the comments below.

~ Adrienne Packard

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