From the Chair...

Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service

In late October the Pro Bono Committee hosted a National Pro Bono Summit in Washington, D.C. as a way of jumpstarting a national grassroots effort across the legal profession to reinvigorate and, in many cases reinvent, the pro bono legal services delivery system. Over 100 pro bono experts and legal profession leaders came together. Working in targeted focus groups, they generated an amazing array of ideas, strategies, and action steps.  Most importantly, the group generated tremendous momentum and enthusiasm to effectuate change.  In responses to a post-event survey, we captured just some of the energy that was evident during the Summit:

  • I thought it was a great event. So many times, we are sitting in sessions where we are simply learning about other programs and projects. I loved that this was an opportunity to brainstorm about what can be done to enhance pro bono on a national level. I really hope that we continue the dialogue and do something concrete with our discussions.

  • I am very excited about exploring ways in which we can help to address the justice gap in this country.

  • The group discussions were better than others I have been in; and our group seemed committed to continue with our proposed agenda in the future.

  • While we have made great strides in efforts to increase pro bono, emphasis on access issues not necessarily related to attorney involvement, tend to overshadow pro bono efforts. This Summit allowed us to once again center our focus and generate actions directly associated with increasing both pro bono participation and creation of opportunities.

  • I felt that there was a lot of enthusiasm at the Summit and that some very valid concerns were expressed. It seems as though we need to develop a thoughtful, comprehensive strategic plan that encompasses realistic solutions and empowers a broad range of partners in order to bring about actual change both for the short term and for the long term.

  • I felt that the Summit was a great opportunity to bring together people who are involved in this issue but who have rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to think and work through these issues together. It felt like an evolutionary step in the development of pro bono.

The Committee’s expectations were that the Summit would be just the first step in an ongoing process.  The vast majority of those in attendance have agreed to participate in that process which we are calling the Pro Bono Summit Initiative.  Over the course of the next year Working Groups will be studying many of the critical issues identified at the October event including program infrastructure, data collection, quality and evaluation, and encouraging participation among other matters.  A leadership plan has been developed, timelines have been established for certain goals to be achieved, and plans are underway for participants and others to reconvene at least twice more during the next year.

As the group discussed the existing gap in the legal services delivery system and the challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome to expand the pro bono legal services system, two things became very clear.  First, the Pro Bono Summit Initiative cannot be just a project of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.  We are calling on all of our partners to engage in an active and collaborative way with this effort.  Second, the challenge of reinvigorating the pro bono legal services delivery system cannot be solved with just the leadership of the legal profession.  Allied professions have a vested interest in our work to close the justice gap and the Pro Bono Summit Initiative will reach out across the professions to engage others in our efforts.

In addition to their ongoing efforts with Summit Working Groups, attendees were charged at the Summit’s end with returning to their communities to discuss, write, listen, and advocate for strategies for improving and expanding the pro bono legal services delivery system.  Through this column and in other ways, the Pro Bono Committee and I bring to your attention what we anticipate will be a growing movement across America to enhance and improve pro bono delivery systems.  I will continue my work in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina – both in my firm and with other law practices – to engage more lawyers in doing pro bono work; I hope each of you will do the same.

For more information about the Pro Bono Summit and what you can do to make a difference – such as convening a local pro bono summit, incorporating pro bono into your access to justice initiatives, building a system for pro bono service into both your practice and your Firms' – contact our Committee Counsel, Steve Scudder, or call 312/988-5768.