Yesterday, we chatted with Lisa Borden, Pro Bono Shareholder of the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. Below, Part II of our interview where Ms. Borden offers advice from her years of service:
A recent ABA report showed that approximately 60% of attorneys under the age of 35 expressed interest in taking on more pro bono work, but many cited inadequate training or lack of knowledge as a potential hurdle. What resources does your firm provide to new or young attorneys to support them in pro bono work?
We hear this not only from younger lawyers, but also from lawyers in practice areas that don’t naturally lend themselves to traditional pro bono. Divorce/family law cases are a big pro bono demand and many attorneys don’t have this background. We do our best to try to reach out and work with volunteer lawyer programs and Legal Aid to get our attorneys into trainings. One thing we haven’t done yet, but are working on, is to bring that training in house. We have done it for our transactional pro bono program – we have in-house video training, forms on our intranet, mentors, etc. and it’s turned out to be a great success. We are hoping we can expand that to other areas of practice within the firm.
Many attorneys think they don’t have the time to take on pro bono cases – — what advice do you have from your own experience about balancing your work, pro bono activities, and personal commitments?
Before I took on this job, I was a labor and employment lawyer for 20 years. I was doing pro bono work then, taking on post-conviction death penalty cases – so it can be done! I think you have to have the mindset that it’s just another piece of your practice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a lawyer say that they can’t take on any more work from billable client because they don’t have time. So it’s really just a mindset – if you think of it like you think of every other case you have, it will happen.
Also, there are pro bono opportunities of every size. You don’t have to take on a death penalty case, or even a divorce case –there are all sorts of opportunities. I think that’s the huge benefit in the firm having someone do this job – most lawyers want to do pro bono but they don’t want to or don’t have time to go find it. But for most lawyers, if you present them with an opportunity and say, this needs doing, they will do it.