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July 27, 2022

Key Takeaways from The 3Rs of Pro Bono Management: Recruitment, Retention, and Recognition

By Marissa LaVette, Assistant Staff Counsel

“You have to know your audience. Know who you are reaching out to,” says Jeff Brown, Pro Bono Program Manager of the State Bar of Wisconsin. The ABA Commission on Immigration and the Center for Pro Bono recently hosted Part 3 of the Pro Bono Best Practices Webinar Series on some of the most pressing topics for pro bono programs: recruitment, retention, and recognition of pro bono attorneys. During the webinar, Angela Bouliakis, Director of the Pro Bono Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, Jeff Brown from the State Bar of Wisconsin, and Amy Kaizuka, Senior Staff Attorney at One Justice shared their experience on the best practices for getting and keeping volunteer attorneys. Here, are some of the main tips from the panelists.  

 Know Your Audience

When crafting a recruitment strategy, it is important to know who the target audience is for recruitment. Are you targeting firms, corporate law departments, or individual attorneys?  Programs should craft their messaging to meet the targeted demographic. For example, know before you send your ask whether an individual might be drawn to pro bono work because of the impact imparted on the client or because they like shaping a new area of law. Furthermore, know what types of cases you are recruiting for and who will be the best fit. If reaching out a firm or corporate law department, know how the organization models their pro bono program and who the contact person or decision-maker is. Also, take advantage of networking. If you know someone at the firm, having that person vouch for you will magnify your outreach efforts.

Clearly Communicate with Potential Partners and Volunteers

The panelists all stressed the importance of communication from the outset when recruiting volunteers. Programs should be clear with volunteers and organizations about what is and is not required in the volunteer role. Similarly, programs should be clear with volunteers and organizations about what is provided by the program (e.g., interpretation services, mentoring). Be prepared to answer potential volunteer’s questions upfront and include specifics about the project. Furthermore, be clear about the qualifications needed and who can participate. When engaging in initial conversations, programs should communicate with potential partners and volunteers to find out their interests and to match the attorney with an appropriate project. It is also a great idea to have clearly state all the expectations for volunteers and reiterate those in writing with a signed volunteer agreement.  

Supporting Volunteers is Key to Retaining Them

Volunteer attorneys need to feel supported in order to continue volunteering with a program. Some suggestions from the panelists about ways to support volunteers are:

  • Offer expense reimbursements and malpractice insurance.
  • Offer mentoring, either within the program via staff attorneys or via other pro bono attorneys.
  •     Provide sample documents and resources.  
  •   Provide a contact: attorney volunteers need    to know who their point of contact is and    how to contact that person.
  • Trainings: provide trainings, both in person and on demand. Consider breaking trainings down into short pieces and offer CLE credit.
  • Stay in contact with volunteers: the frequency of the contact can vary depending on the comfort level of the attorney, but be sure to have a schedule to check-in on the case status. Connecting either individually or as a group is a morale booster.

 Always Say Thank You!

Always be sure to thank your volunteers in some capacity. We are all human and we all want to feel appreciated! The panelists had the following suggestions for varying methods of recognizing volunteers:

  • Say thank you in a card or email.
  • Nominate attorneys for various awards. 
  • Use social media to give the attorney a shout out for their work on a case.
  • Provide information to the attorney’s firm so that the firm can amplify that recognition via their marketing department.
  •  Think about the volunteer’s motivations and what opportunities there are to bridge these. Know your audience.
  •  Share positive words from the client with the attorney.
  • Profiles in magazines, newsletters, or websites.
  • Promote during the National Celebration of Pro Bono/Pro Bono Week in October.

Thanks again to our panelists for sharing their advice for volunteer recruitment, retention, and recognition. We hope you can use these suggestions to assist with your program’s needs. 

About the Author

Marissa LaVette is the Assistant Staff Counsel with the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono. She provides technical assistance and support to organizations in the pro bono field, including law schools, bar associations, pro bono programs, and legal services offices. Marissa assists in the implementation of the Center’s initiatives to increase and support pro bono work, including the National Celebration of Pro Bono, the Equal Justice Conference, the Peer Consulting Project, and the ABA’s internal Volunteer Lawyer Program. Prior to joining the ABA, Marissa was a Staff Attorney with the Legal Advocacy Center of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, where she represented children and families in special education and disability matters.