The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service convened, on October 24-25, a National Pro Bono Summit in Washington. I was privileged to be invited to participate, along with more than 100 other leaders representing bar associations, Legal Service Corporation, legal aid providers, private law firms, national advocacy organizations, government agencies, and law schools. Participants were surveyed prior to the meeting for ideas on innovative programs, proven best practices, challenges, and opportunities. Summit participants were divided into five work groups, with each group concentrating on a single aspect of pro bono. The groups examined:
- components of best practices;
- creating an infrastructure;
- encouraging involvement and commitment;
- ensuring quality and evaluation; and
- strategic approaches.
Each group was given a list of questions to address during a series of two-hour brainstorming sessions. Hundreds of ideas were generated within each group, and then distilled into ideas that would fit onto one or two PowerPoint slides. All of the notes and ideas generated at the Summit are being compiled and edited to guide the ongoing work of the participants. Summit participants were asked to commit to continue work on this effort over the coming year. United States Attorney General Eric Holder was the Summit’s keynote speaker. He stressed the importance of pro bono volunteers in closing the justice gap in America. Attorney General Holder noted estimates that suggest more than 80 percent of the legal needs of low-income and at-risk Americans remain unmet by the current service delivery system. Attorney General Holder reminded participants that the legal profession bears a sacred responsibility to provide access to the legal system. He urged attendees to “establish a path forward” and to build on the progress already made in pro bono development. He encouraged more attorneys to join in the effort to fulfill our country’s founding promise of equal justice under the law. Finally, Attorney General Holder asked participants to look beyond the traditional law firm pro bono model and include retired and inactive attorneys, corporate attorneys, and attorneys who are family caregivers in pro bono recruitment efforts.1 Over the course of the upcoming year Summit participants will produce recommendations for expanding pro bono opportunities and pro bono involvement. We will share those recommendations with you here in BIFOCAL and on the Elderbar list serve..