Evaluating Pro Bono Programs and Policies
If you have decided to pursue a position with a law firm, you may be seeking firms that offer meaningful pro bono opportunities. Although firms provide lots of information about their pro bono programs, the best way to learn about a firm's commitment to pro bono is by talking with other attorneys at the firm. Ask them about what types of pro bono matters the firm is involved in and what type of pro bono work they do. You will also want to ask about the following attributes of the firm’s pro bono program.
1. How is the firm's pro bono program structured?
- Is there a full-time coordinator? (if so, ask to talk to this person)
- Is the coordinator an attorney?
- Is the coordinator a partner or are partners involved in the supervision of pro bono cases?
- How are pro bono cases brought into the firm?
- Does the firm work routinely with specific nonprofits?
- Who screens/assigns the cases?
- What types of pro bono matters does the firm accept? (impact, class actions or solely individual matters?)
- Do individual attorneys have any discretion in bringing in their own pro bono cases?
- Do attorneys in all of the firm’s offices participate?
- Does the firm provide training and supervision for pro bono matters?
- Does the firm provide support staff for pro bono cases?
2. How does the firm encourage pro bono work?
- Are attorneys required or encouraged to perform a minimum number of pro bono hours annually?
- Do pro bono hours count toward the firm’s billable hour requirement?
- Is there a cap on the number of pro bono hours that count as billable?
- Are pro bono hours considered as part of the bonus/promotion performance review?
- Do summer associates participate in pro bono, and, if so, are they evaluated on such work?
- Are pro bono cases treated the same as billable cases when work is distributed?
- How many of the lawyers who recently made partner did substantial pro bono work?
- Does the firm sponsor any public interest fellowship or externship programs, and, if so, what types?
- How many lawyers in the firm did pro bono and how many hours per lawyer?
3. Is the firm a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge?
- Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge (The Challenge requires the firm to commit 3-5 percent of their total billable hours to pro bono. This is valuable information about the firm’s commitment to pro bono.)
- Has the firm met the challenge’s goals in the last 2-3 years?
4. Where does the firm rank in the Am Law 100 or Am Law 200 pro bono charts or The Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs and has it won any pro bono awards?
5. What does the firm say about their pro bono program on their website or in their annual report? Ask for a copy of their written pro bono policy.
- Is the description specific and substantive or a more general firm marketing piece?