Division Surveys Members on Pro Bono
Although small firm and solo lawyers agree on the need for pro bono legal services, many say the demands of time and a lack of resources make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to contribute. As a follow–up to recent ABA resolutions urging solo and small firm lawyers to perform pro bono and community service, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division developed an informal survey to learn about respondents’ participation, motivating factors, and challenges to participation. The survey confirmed that solo and small firms are deeply involved in their local communities. On average, 62 percent of respondents provided pro bono legal services and 80 percent provided non–law related community service within the 12 months prior to the survey.
The primary reasons given for participation were a sense of professional responsibility, personal satisfaction, civic responsibility, the opportunity to enhance legal skills, and professional benefits such as contacts and referrals. Others indicated being motivated by an issue that impacted their life or that of a loved one. Reasons for not participating were lack of time, family obligations, lack of skills or experience in the practice areas needed by pro bono clients, and lack of administrative support or resources.
When asked about factors that would encourage service, attorneys indicated taking on discrete legal tasks as opposed to full representation; free malpractice insurance; free training (manuals and forms) and CLE credit; a full range of opportunities; mentors and cocounsel; reliable prescreening of client financial eligibility; free use of office space and administrative support; and court–provided scheduling preferences.
Based on this information, what can the ABA, bar associations, legal service providers, and volunteers do to increase pro bono attorney involvement of solo and small firm practitioners?
Foster pro bono ethic of service. Survey responses indicate that internal motivation, more than external, is critical to pro bono involvement. Awards, CLE credit, and other inducements may encourage some participation, but it is even more important that the ABA, law schools, and the legal community foster a sense of professional responsibility to volunteer.
Communicate availability of support. Pro bono and legal service organizations commonly provide training sessions and free CLE credit for services performed. In addition, most offer malpractice coverage, reliable prescreening of client financial eligibility, mentoring and cocounseling programs, and opportunities to partner with larger firms on complex cases. Programs that offer these services must more effectively communicate the availability of these services for cases that they refer.
Sign up! Search the National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide at www.volunteerforprobono.org for opportunities within your community. The guide indexes links to organizations and Web sites in each state and provides information on available support services.
The GP Division’s Public Service Committee wants to hear from you. If you have suggestions or are interested in learning more, contact Chair Bruce Hopson at firstname.lastname@example.org or this author.
Melanie Kushnir ( email@example.com) is assistant staff counsel for the ABA Center for Pro Bono.