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February 25, 2022

Pro Bono Best Practices Part 2: Key Takeaways for Developing Bite-Sized Pro Bono Projects

On February 2, 2022, the Commission on Immigration hosted a webinar sharing key takeaways for developing bite-sized pro bono projects.

On February 2, 2022, the Commission on Immigration hosted a webinar sharing key takeaways for developing bite-sized pro bono projects.

“Only attorneys can do pro bono legal services. Anyone can do a lot of other feel-good opportunities, but only attorneys have the power to provide pro bono legal services. That is something I always emphasize in communications to volunteers,” emphasizes Cate Scenna. The ABA Commission on Immigration and the ABA Center for Pro Bono co-hosted “Pro Bono Best Practices Part 2: Crafting Bite-Sized Pro Bono Opportunities for Immigration Services.” Panelists Sarah Hanners, Cate Scenna, and Caroline Van Der Harten offered suggestions to pro bono programs on crafting projects to offer smaller, bite-sized pro bono opportunities to volunteers that serve clients in need of immigration legal services. Here are six key takeaways from the webinar.  

1.    Know the Community’s Needs

When developing a bite-sized pro bono project, the first step is to identify a particular need that is relevant to the community. Communication is key with both the community, clients in need, and volunteer attorneys. When trying to determine if a project is appropriate for a clinic, determine if someone in-house could accomplish the same task within 4-5 hours. If yes, then it is likely a good fit for a clinic setting, where a volunteer attorney can come in and do the work that same day. If a case cannot be done in-house in under 4-5 hours, it is unlikely to be a good fit for a clinic setting.

2.       Timeline and Planning are Key

Once you have identified a large group of clients in need of a specific service, look for very straightforward, similar cases without red flags. Establishing a timeline is key. Programs should take a few months to connect with partners and conduct outreach to ensure that the event will be well-attended. Prior to the clinic, be sure to pre-screen the attendees and choose cases with limited red flags that will be relatively straightforward for volunteers. The pre-screening event should be at least 3-6 weeks before the clinic, which allows clients plenty of time to gather needed documents. Communication is key for everyone involved: clients, community members, and volunteers. Remember that the work continues after the actual event is over. Be sure to evaluate afterwards to make improvements or adjustments for future events. Programs should always remember to thank volunteers and partners. Remember that you are always working to build and maintain relationships for the next event.

3.       Support and Prepare your Volunteers

Volunteer training and preparation are a key aspect of pro bono projects. Prior to the clinic, plan an online training for volunteer attorneys. Leading up the clinic, be sure to offer another training that provides the logistics and context of the service that the volunteers are providing. Consider providing all volunteers with a folder containing everything that they need for the clinic. This includes volunteer resources, administrative forms that need to be signed, and documents they will complete for the clients. It is also a good idea to include a confidentiality agreement along with an agreement that the volunteer attorney will not try to turn the case into paid work. Other helpful documents include a roadmap and/or checklist for the attorney that includes all the necessary steps for the case. Volunteers should review both the scope of services and information on confidentiality with the client. It is also a good practice to provide clients with a document in their native language that explains both the scope of the services and confidentiality.

4.       Emphasize the Benefits of Volunteering and Support Your Attorneys

When recruiting attorneys, try to frame the opportunity as a chance to meet the community and connect with colleagues. This is especially important during the pandemic when so many in-person events have been switched to virtual. Remind newer attorneys that this is a great opportunity to learn from experienced practitioners. Also, emphasize the need for pro bono with statistics on the difference pro bono makes paired with meaningful client stories. Volunteers who have a good experience are more likely to come back and volunteer again. Therefore, develop a plan for the number of volunteers that are needed and assign individual roles, such as check-in, forms completion, and screening so that all attorneys have something to do. Consider grouping attorneys based on skill level and language capabilities.

To find volunteers, remember to work with your local AILA chapter, bar associations, corporate pro bono programs, and law firms. While big firms can be an excellent partner for projects, don’t forget about small and solo firm attorneys. These attorneys may need connections during the pandemic and may not have as many available mentors or contacts for questions. Be sure that you are providing malpractice insurance to all volunteers, along with mentorship, contacts, interpreters, sample pleadings, and checklists.

5.       Be Creative with Non-Attorney Involvement

Remember to find ways that non-attorney volunteers can assist in your event. Volunteer interpreters can be an invaluable resource because many of the volunteer attorneys will not speak the same language as the clients. Craft a parallel recruiting effort aimed at finding and training volunteer interpreters. Non-attorney volunteers, such as law students and paralegals, can assist with non-legal administrative tasks. Look to your local universities and law schools to recruit non-attorneys.

6.       Connect with the Community to Publicize Your Event

To get the word out to clients about your upcoming event, connect with organizations in the community. Contact local churches to publicize the event to the client pool.  One panelist also suggested using local Spanish language TV networks as an avenue for client outreach. Schools, healthcare providers, and community organizations are other locations to utilize for communication. Libraries are another excellent resource where the circulation desks can connect clients with citizenship classes and events.

Bite-sized pro bono projects are an amazing way to involve attorneys in pro bono while also serving the needs of many clients in your community who may have no other access to legal assistance. Involving attorneys in bite-sized projects can be a great way to transition them into longer term projects. Volunteers who feel comfortable and supported in smaller projects know that mentorship and support are available if they move to a larger scope, full representation project.

Thanks again to our panelists for sharing these amazing tips for limited scope, bite-sized pro bono projects. We hope you can use these tips to craft bite-sized pro bono projects in your community. 

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 theNational 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.