The pro bono work of private law firms is essential to close the justice gap and provides life-changing assistance to individuals, families, and communities. In addition to being some of the most rewarding work you will ever do, it also provides an opportunity for leadership, increased responsibility, and direct, front-line experience. If you choose to join a private law firm when you enter the legal profession, we hope that you will choose a firm with a strong commitment to pro bono and make pro bono an important part of your practice.
As the next generation of lawyers, you have the opportunity to turn your values into action and to steer the course of the legal profession. You can do this by upholding the tradition of pro bono work and making it a priority at your firm. But you can also reinforce the importance of pro bono before you even start your job. The recruitment of top caliber law students is one of the driving forces behind law firm pro bono programs. Make sure that you attend the annual Berkeley Law Pro Bono Law Firm Fair in the Spring where you can pose questions to the Pro Bono Partners and Counsel from leading law firms across the country. Asking questions about pro bono lets employers know that pro bono is important to prospective associates. Then, once you have an offer in hand, ask the tough questions and then vote with your feet!
Asking questions about pro bono also will help you to distinguish between those firms that claim to support pro bono and those that actually do so. What you should ask? This American Bar Association brochure has the tools and tips you need to effectively evaluation law firm pro bono programs. We have included some of the key information here. Good luck in your job search and thank you for your interest in pro bono!
ABA Recommendations for Law Firm Pro Bono Programs
The American Bar Association recommends that firms adopt written policies and practices that support and reward pro bono work, including policies and practices that:
- Count pro bono hours as billable hours.
- Consider attorneys’ commitment to pro bono activity as a favorable factor in advancement and compensation decisions.
- Set annual goals regarding the number of hours contributed through firm pro bono programs and the number of attorneys who participate.
- Establish and maintain systems that ensure that firm pro bono programs are managed effectively, that participating attorneys receive training and guidance, and that the highest levels of firm management oversee and participate in their programs.
- Provide opportunities to participate in pro bono through sabbatical and part-time pro bono programs, fellowships, or rotation programs.
ABA Sample Questions to Evaluate a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono
- If the firm has a billable hours target, does pro bono work count towards billable hours? Does the firm have a maximum number of pro bono hours which may be applied toward the billable requirement?
- How does pro bono factor into compensation, performance reviews and partnership decisions?
- Does the firm have a written pro bono policy?
- If the firm has adopted a pro bono policy, has the firm made any recent changes to its policy? If so, why?
- Does the firm have a structured pro bono program? For example, does it have a pro bono committee?
- Does the firm have a pro bono coordinator? Is this person an attorney? Is this person a partner? Does this person work full or part time on pro bono matters?
- What percentage of the lawyers in the firm did pro bono work last year? What percentage of the partners? What percentage of the lawyers who made partner this year handled a pro bono case?
- What other resources does the firm make available to attorneys who perform pro bono work? For instance, is training available? Is support staff permitted to work on pro bono cases?
- How does the firm define pro bono work?
- Do partners supervise pro bono work?
- How does the firm decide which pro bono cases the firm will accept? If an attorney brings a pro bono case for possible consideration by the firm, who makes decisions about whether the organization will handle the matter?
- Does the firm have a signature pro bono project or focus on a particular issue?
- How is pro bono work assigned or distributed?
- Does the firm encourage or require attorneys to perform a minimum number of hours of pro bono work?
- In addition to a pro bono policy, does the firm have other programs encouraging public service — e.g., summer rotation, split summers or post-graduate fellowships?