Can you describe the Pro Bono Network for our readers, as well as how it got started?
Pro Bono Network enables attorneys, who are no longer in the traditional legal workplace, to participate in legal aid volunteer work by giving their time and receiving valuable skills, all while creating access to legal assistance for those in need.
The legal community is aware that there are not enough legal aid attorneys to meet the growing need for low income representation. Volunteer attorneys help meet this need, but even then the demand certainly outweighs the supply. However, what happens when an attorney wants to provide pro bono legal aid, but life’s circumstances do not allow for pro bono participation in the traditional legal aid volunteer setting? They quickly learn that they cannot use their law degree and legal experience to give back in a practical manner, because by the time they hire a babysitter, make their way downtown, and pay for parking to attend a training on a weeknight, they discover that the legal aid agency may not even want them to volunteer since they are no longer working at that law firm they were on partnership track at (they intended to go back after maternity leave, but it just made more sense to stay home with their beautiful children while they were so small). Sigh.
Pro Bono Network currently has over 200 volunteer attorneys and 12 legal aid projects. Ninety percent of the attorneys are women, and about a third of them are stay at home parents who want to do pro bono legal work as their schedule allows.
In February of 2011, in a very grassroots fashion, a group of ten like-minded mom attorneys with a desire to give back through pro bono legal assistance met around a kitchen table in Oak Park, Illinois. Each of them had unique legal backgrounds and a plethora of experience between them: partners at large law firms, corporate counsel, entrepreneurs, social work, legal nonprofit directors, and the U.S. government. They each also had something in common—they were taking a break from traditional legal careers to focus on family, and they were seeking to make time to give back through pro bono legal service in a way that was in harmony with their current lives. The problem was that although there was desperate need for attorneys to do pro bono work, no mechanism existed to mobilize stay-at-home attorneys or those attorneys who were not in the full-time traditional practice of law.
As the group of attorneys discussed ideas and obstacles and began outlining a plan to move forward, something interesting happened. Those around the table with school age children heard their cell phones buzzing, alerting them that due to the snow blizzard, all schools were being dismissed early for student and staff safety. That first meeting concluded in anticipation of children coming home and set the tone for the Pro Bono Network’s framework: Keeping in mind the needs of the stay-at-home attorney and catering to the constraints and need for flexibility that come along with parenthood while still effectively providing legal aid to those in need.