The Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service Year-in-Review

Mary Ryan, Chair, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service

Mary Ryan, Chair, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service

When I began my term as chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service in 2013 I knew that the Committee had a busy slate of activities.  I had completed a full three year term on the Committee, was honored to be appointed to serve as Chair and was ready to lead the ABA’s pro bono initiatives to the next level.  The scope of the Committee’s efforts has turned out to be even more impressive and impactful than I ever imagined it would be, in both scope and depth.  As 2015 draws to a close, here is a review of the Committee’s work over the past twelve months:

ABA Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants

  • Co-sponsor with the ABA Commission on Immigration
  • Developed and implemented training for potential pro bono volunteers in collaboration with various ABA entities
  • Created website ( to support pro bono lawyers
  • Proposed a House of Delegates resolution which was adopted addressing key issues in assisting unaccompanied minor immigrants
  • Developed an exciting online portal for volunteer attorneys to obtain support from organizations, mentors and each other.

ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference

  • With the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, convened the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference in Austin, TX on May 6-9
  • Over 835 individuals attended; they participated in more than 85 workshops and networking sessions
  • Keynote speakers included ABA President William Hubbard; Lisa Foster, the director of the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative; and, Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. Multiple ABA entities and outside organizations supported and presented conference program sessions.

  • In May 2015 the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service voted to use the Online Tennessee Justice system as a framework for building, maintaining and staffing a national pro bono website
  • The ABA Board of Governors authorized moving forward with the project at its November 2015 meeting
  • Over 30 states have committed to participating in the national site.

2015 ABA Pro Bono Publico Awards

  • Hosted a signature Saturday luncheon event during the ABA Annual Meeting.
  • Presented awards to :
    • Baylor University School of Law / Waco, TX
    • Daniel L. Brown / Sheppard Mullin / New York, NY
    • Jones Day / International
    • Leslie S. Silverstein / Portland, ME
    • United Airlines Legal Department / Chicago, IL
  • Provided national recognition of our long term partners   the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals (NABPRO) and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCO)
  • Produced and disseminated videos featuring each of the 2015 Award recipients

National Celebration of Pro Bono

  • Planned and implemented the seventh National Celebration of Pro Bono
  • Generated over 900 events coordinated by more than 550 organizations across the country
  • Provided resources, ideas, models and more that were replicated locally
  • Implemented ABA President Paulette Brown’s signature event, And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service which mobilized thousands of lawyers to increase legal services to poor and vulnerable people
  • Generated extensive coverage in local and national legal and mainstream press conveying very positive messages about the ABA and America’s lawyers.

Center for Pro Bono

  • The ABA Center for Pro Bono, a project of the Committee, provided technical assistance on promoting and developing pro bono to projects of all types across the country
  • The Center provided technical support on various aspects of pro bono development to multiple ABA entities
  • Center staff oversaw the ABA’s in-house pro bono project providing ABA staff lawyers the opportunity to fulfill their professional responsibility by identifying, communicating and coordinating pro bono activities.

Legal Services Corporation Collaboration

  • Committee members and staff have participated as members of working groups and presentations relating to LSC’s pro bono activities
  • The Committee met with the LSC Board at its January 2015 meeting to explore additional strategies for working together on pro bono development

Other Activities

  • The Committee has incorporated pro bono into the planning of Access to Justice Commissions with particular emphasis on judicial leadership and the adoption of pro bono policies and rules
  • Tested the utilization of the Committee’s national pro bono empirical research model at a state level through a contract with Legal Aid of Nebraska
  • Collaborated with the Commission on Law and Aging on studying the impact and effectiveness of statewide emeritus pro bono rules
  • Continued to increase the availability of volunteer attorneys to provide free legal services to low-income patients of hospitals and health centers through medical-legal partnerships
  • Presented the fourth annual ABA Outstanding Pro Bono Advocacy in Medical-Legal Partnership Award in April 2015 to the Boston, Massachusetts law firm Ropes & Gray
  • Committee members and staff are regularly invited to participate in meetings, conference and other programs relating to the utilization of pro bono as a core component of the legal services delivery system.


It is an honor for the Committee’s staff and volunteers to actively promote pro bono as a key component of the legal services delivery system.  To be successful, we need your help.  Here are the top 5 (from lowest to highest priority) ways in which you can support our efforts:

  1. Consider a charitable contribution to support the Committee’s activities. Many of the projects described above depend on the generosity of our contributors.  Donate HERE by designating your contribution to “Other” and inserting “The Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service” in the accompanying box that appears.
  1. Participate in the National Celebration of Pro Bono each year. Host an event, volunteer, develop collaborations and more.
  1. Attend the annual ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference.
  1. Keep us updated on your pro bono policy and programmatic developments. Send us ( examples of your program flyers, intake forms, co-counsel agreements and more for us to add to our Clearinghouse of pro bono material.  Call us for assistance.  We stand ready to help you with all of your pro bono project development needs.  Contact Cheryl Zalenski with your requests for assistance at 312-988-5770.
  1. Take a pro bono case. Sign up to represent one of the many unaccompanied minor immigrants desperately in need of legal help or sign up for ABA Legal Answers when it goes live in your state next year or find a legal services provider in your community who needs lawyers to help preserve someone’s home or other vital right.  It’ll be a win-win-win for you, the program and your client.

 Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!

 Mary K. Ryan is a partner at the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP and Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.

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