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Recruiting Volunteers

Recruiting is a central and challenging component of a pro bono program. Recruitment of volunteers is an ongoing and constant process; to be successful, a pro bono program should engage in continual development and promotion of its volunteer opportunities. The ABA Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means, Standard 4.1, states, "A pro bono program should develop effective strategies for recruiting volunteers."

To effectively publicize volunteer opportunities and recruit lawyers, a pro bono program should develop a recruiting plan. A successful recruiting plan requires a program to:

  1. know the audience;
  2. create a message;
  3. provide potential volunteers with support and incentives to volunteer; and 
  4. get the word out about the available volunteer opportunities and incentives to volunteer.

Know Your Target Market

The first step in developing a recruiting plan is identifying the audience - the potential volunteer lawyers within the service area. Pro bono program staff should be able to answer the following questions about the audience:

  • How many lawyers are there in the service area?
  • Is there a local bar association?
  • In what areas of law do local lawyers practice? Do they have general practices or do they specialize?
  • How large are the local law firms (solo practices, mid-size, national firms)?
  • Are there corporate or government lawyers in the service area?
  • What are the lawyers' constraints upon volunteering - limited time, lack of substantive knowledge, lack of opportunity?

Once the program is familiar with the answers to these questions, it can create a recruiting message that will fit the audience it seeks to reach. A program will employ different recruiting techniques for an area in which there is a local bar association with which to work, for example, than it would in an area without a bar association. Similarly, a recruitment campaign directed at government lawyers may need to address different issues than one aimed at large law firms.

Create the Message

The program's recruiting message should always include: 

  1.  the type of work involved in the volunteer opportunity;
  2. the need that the volunteer will fulfill and how participating will benefit the community;
  3. the program's requirements for participation (e.g. lawyer in good standing, etc.);
  4. the timeframe of the volunteer opportunity; and
  5. a person and contact information.

In addition to the above information, the program should address any specific concerns its audience may have. If the program's recruiting effort is directed at large law firms, for example, the program may want to emphasize the benefits to the firm of pro bono participation, such as trial experience for associates. If the program's recruiting effort is aimed at corporate lawyers, the message should provide information on the training and support lawyers will receive to alleviate potential concerns about practicing in an unfamiliar area of law.

Another effective element to include in the recruiting message is a testimonial from a current volunteer. A testimonial may be particularly persuasive for discrete lawyer populations, such as government or large law firm lawyers, as an example of successfully incorporating pro bono into one's career. Testimonials should be specific, rather than general: identify a specific lawyer's daily work, explain the lawyer's pro bono work, and briefly state how she has benefited from participating in pro bono.

Incentives and Support

Standard 4.8 states, "A pro bono program should offer training, mentoring, and supervision to its volunteers."  A recruiting message should describe the support and assistance that the pro bono program will provide. Providing a description of the available support will alleviate the concerns of less experienced lawyers regarding their ability to provide the services needed by the program's clients.

Examples of support that a pro bono program can provide are:

  • Training and resource materials
  • Litigation funds
  • Professional liability insurance
  • Provide experienced lawyers as mentors for new lawyers and lawyers with less experience in specific substantive areas.

Additionally, the recruiting message should advise the potential volunteer of the benefits of volunteering. The message should also give a lawyer an incentive to provide pro bono services. Incentives to participate may include:

  • Client contact
  • Networking with other lawyers
  • Trial experience
  • CLE credit for pro bono
  • A feeling of involvement in the community
  • Recognition and visibility within the community.

Specific Attorney Populations

When recruiting attorneys who are members of the judiciary, government employees, or in-house counsel for corporations, programs should address the unique challenges each group faces in participating in pro bono. Members of the judiciary, for example, must consider ethical limitations on pro bono participation, while government attorneys may have conflict of interest concerns, and corporate counsel may not be licensed to practice law in the state in which the corporation is located. By anticipating these concerns and presenting solutions, programs will increase the success of their recruiting efforts.

Get the Word Out

A pro bono program can get its message out through any number of techniques. A good recruiting plan involves a combination of techniques that provide continuous publicity of volunteer opportunities as well as discrete recruiting campaigns. Programs should choose the techniques best suited to the local community. For example, in small communities, personal contact is often more effective than a formal letter.

Pro bono programs across the country have successfully utilized the following recruiting techniques:

  • General mailings to the legal community
  • Targeted mailings to specific groups (e.g. newly admitted lawyers, substantive section members)
  • In-person presentations (at bar meetings or other events)
  • Telephone calls from judges or respected lawyers
  • Free admission to a CLE in exchange for volunteering
  • Hold a Summer/First Year Associate Day providing substantive training and inspirational speeches in return for commitment to a case
  • Recruiting message on the program's website
  • Send recruitment letters signed by local judge(s)
  • Hold a luncheon for law firm coordinators and/or managing partners with judges attending
  • Write an article for the local bar association's monthly publication
  • Obtain a local bar resolution calling on lawyers to take one pro bono case each year
  • Put up a large digital sign in a prominent location advertising pro bono (sign space is donated)
  • Have the pro bono/recruitment committee, made up of lawyers, follow up by phone or in person with previous participants who have not signed up again.

Be Prepared

It is critical that programs not recruit volunteers without well-defined volunteer opportunities and an immediate next step for people who call or email about these opportunities (a date for a face-to-face meeting or training, for instance). Asking for volunteers without having a method to immediately place them into the program is similar to advertising a product you don't really have, and can both cause resentment on the part of potential supporters and a perception that the need for volunteers does not exist.

For More Information

For more information or materials on recruiting volunteer lawyers, including:

  • recruitment letters signed by judges
  • brochures
  • articles from bar publications

please search the Center for Pro Bono's Knowledge Center or email the Center for Pro Bono . 


Updated March 2020