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Bar Associations and Executives

Program Support - Bar Associations/Bar Leaders

Access to justice is dependent upon the availability of legal help. Because of their stature, organizational structure and resources, bar associations are uniquely situated to spearhead the effort to promote and coordinate the pro bono component of an integrated legal services delivery strategy. Bar leaders, in particular, are in a position to influence and direct the expansion of legal services to the poor. Bar leaders are encouraged to work with the judiciary, legal services organizations, funders, law firms, other social services providers and client groups in their communities to design integrated strategies for addressing the unmet legal needs of low and moderate income persons in this country. In addition to influencing the structure of the bar to promote pro bono activities, bar leaders and candidates for bar leadership positions should demonstrate their support for pro bono and legal services through pro bono service, and service on boards that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

Training & Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

Bar associations provide training in a variety of ways, and training can be a vital aspect of recruiting pro bono attorneys. Some bar associations offer free CLE programs directed at recruiting pro bono attorneys for certain types of cases. Other bar associations offer discounts on CLE programs to attorneys who accept pro bono referrals. Still other bar associations support rules that permit attorneys who take pro bono cases to earn credit toward mandatory CLE requirements. In all of these situations, attorneys benefit by obtaining CLE credits without charge, and pro bono programs benefit by recruiting additional panel members. Here is more information about using training and CLE opportunities to recruit pro bono attorneys.

Starting a Pro Bono Program

Creating a pro bono program is one of the strongest tools bar leadership can use to influence the structure of the bar to promote pro bono work. When creating a bar association pro bono program, there are three main models for operating the program:

  • state support,
  • direct delivery, and
  • public legal education.

State support programs begin with the state bar association enacting a statewide pro bono plan and program that provides statewide support for pro bono activities. Some bar associations administer a statewide pro bono support program within the structure of the bar itself, and other bar associations create an independent 501(c)(3) for that purpose. Regardless of structure, however, the close relationship between a bar association and the state support program staff can be instrumental in raising the level of pro bono activity on a statewide basis.

Direct delivery programs provide direct delivery of legal services to persons of limited means through pro bono attorneys, and direct delivery programs operating through state and local bar associations exist in several forms. The most popular forms include intake/referral systems and clinics. In intake/referral systems, volunteers or staff members screen clients for income eligibility and type of legal problem before referring certain clients to volunteer attorneys for representation. In clinics, pro bono attorneys are matched with groups of clients in clinic settings in order to provide the most efficient use of limited attorney resources.

Lastly, public legal education is a relatively simple method through which bar associations can offer pro bono resources to persons of limited means. Public education often takes the form of speakers' bureaus, telephone hotlines, and publications, and a public education program often works well for bar associations that wish to undertake less labor-intensive pro bono programs.

For further guidance for new and established programs and their governing bodies, consult the ABA's Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means

Making Pro Bono A Priority: A Bar Leader's Handbook

The ABA Center for Pro Bono's publication, Making Pro Bono A Priority: A Bar Leader's Handbook, was designed for bar leaders to use in implementing the ABA House of Delegates' 1995 resolution urging the ABA, along with other bar associations, to make the expansion of pro bono legal services by practicing attorneys a critical priority. The handbook includes:

  • The description of an extensive range of strategies bar associations should consider as part of their pro bono commitment;
  • Examples of how particular strategies have been applied by selected bar associations around the country;
  • Samples of selected materials reflecting the manner in which a particular strategy has been implemented by a bar association;
  • Contact names and phone numbers to assist bar leaders in gathering additional information and materials; and
  • A list of additional resources, which bar leaders can utilize in the development of pro bono activities within their association.

Additional Information

Step-by-Step Checklist and Related Resources for Starting and Sustaining a Court Based Pro Bono Program

Michigan Bar Association Pro Bono Toolkit

Supreme Court of Missouri Judges' Tool Kit on Pro Bono

For more information on how bar associations and bar leaders can develop strategies for involving particular segments of the legal community in pro bono activities, or for more information on the Knowledge Center, you may email the Center for Pro Bono.


Updated March 2020

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Bar associations can promote pro bono through the use of video.