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Background the guide

Why did PILnet and A4ID set out to create a clearinghouse manual?

When PILnet and A4ID set out to produce the original Pro Bono Clearinghouse Manual the clearinghouses agreed a joint statement to explain their motivation for the project. That statement remains relevant to the growth of that project through this online manual.

This manual represents an ongoing collaboration between PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law (PILnet) and Advocates for International Development (A4ID) to develop best practices for operating pro bono clearinghouses in order to assist the development of pro bono clearinghouses globally.

When PILnet first began working in Eastern Europe in 1997, one of its core goals was to enhance access to justice for socially vulnerable, poor and disadvantaged people. It developed strategies to reform legal aid systems and legal education, and it successfully facilitated critical reforms throughout the region. PILnet also helped build the advocacy capacity of civil society organizations by maximizing the reach of their work and their impact on the communities they serve.

Towards the end of its first decade working in Europe, PILnet (formerly know as the Public Interest Law Institute or PILI) witnessed an increasing interest in “pro bono”—uncompensated voluntary legal services for the public good. Seeing an opportunity to develop much-needed legal resources for public interest purposes, PILnet began its quest to bridge the gap between the lawyers willing to provide free legal help and those who need it.

Around the same time in the United Kingdom, A4ID was also trying to institutionalize the commitment to international pro bono. Following the Asian tsunami of 2004, a group of London-based lawyers, the “1,000 City Lawyers,” came together in association with Oxfam to further the underlying goals and principles of the Make Poverty History campaign. A4ID was the independent successor organization of this movement—pulling together the talent, commitment and enthusiasm generated by 1,000 City Lawyers but adopting a broader focus: to use legal skills in support of a range of development actors to champion the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Both PILnet and A4ID independently realized that establishing a clearinghouse was one way to achieve their new goals. A clearinghouse facilitates the provision of pro bono legal advice by acting as a broker between people or organizations who need legal assistance and lawyers who are willing to help. Clearinghouses generally aim to institutionalize the pro bono practice of law firms and individual practitioners in order to leverage private sector resources for the good of all. By promoting and providing technical assistance for organized pro bono, clearinghouses help increase access to legal resources for more disadvantaged groups.

Accordingly, in 2006, PILnet launched its Global and Hungarian clearinghouses to help enable long-lasting connections between pro bono practitioners and NGOs around the world, later adding clearinghouses in Russia and China. In London, A4ID was simultaneously launching its clearinghouse aimed at promoting international development and poverty eradication by increasing access to legal practitioners. Following these models, other European clearinghouses launched soon thereafter. Suddenly, pro bono practice in Europe was becoming a reality.

In 2007, PILnet held its first European Pro Bono Forum, which has since become an essential event for those interested in pro bono practice in Europe. Before the conference, PILnet hosted the first-ever European Pro Bono Clearinghouse Workshop. By the 2010 Forum, held in Paris, the attendance and agenda of the Clearinghouse Workshop had expanded greatly, bringing together participants from across Europe and around the globe—from as far afield as Ireland, France, Latvia, Brazil, and South Africa—to share knowledge, exchange information, and freely discuss issues. A4ID made major contributions to these conversations, but both A4ID and PILnet felt there was more to share.

The success of the Forum, coupled with the proliferation of emerging clearinghouses around the world, made us realize there was a need for a practical guide aimed at giving substantial guidance to individuals and NGOs who plan to launch a pro bono clearinghouse in their country. In an attempt to capitalize on our combined experience in establishing and running successful clearinghouses, the Pro Bono Clearinghouse Manual was born. The manual has since benefitted from the input of a number of fellow clearinghouses, particularly at the November 2010 Pro Bono Clearinghouse Workshop. We hope that learning from the experiences of other clearinghouses will help guide your clearinghouse and expand pro bono practice globally.

Edwin Rekosh

Executive Director, PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law

Yasmin Batliwala

Chief Executive, Advocates for International Development

The Manual: the Basics

In many jurisdictions, free legal services have traditionally been available to those in need either informally, from solo practitioners and small firms on a pro bono basis, or through legal aid or non-profit organizations that employed lawyers to provide free services to specific categories of clients in need. More recently, however, and particularly during the last two decades, pro bono has become a more institutionalized service within the legal profession. A number of factors have contributed to this. First, in some jurisdictions, cuts in government-funded legal aid programs challenged the legal profession to examine the availability of free legal services to those in need and to consider the profession’s role in providing such services on a pro bono basis. Second, as the size and globalization of law firms began to grow, many law firms started to institutionalize their firms’ pro bono work, in part in order to recruit top law school graduates and retain associates. Finally, many bar associations began organizing non-profit pro bono programs and promoted volunteerism at law firms as an alternative to legal aid organizations. A critical contribution to the development of pro bono legal services has been the growth of pro bono clearinghouses—non-profit organizations that help promote the availability and institutionalization of pro bono while acting as pro bono matchmakers, connecting those in need of free legal services with lawyers capable of providing it. The goal of this site is to draw on the experiences of PILnet, A4ID and others to provide resources to new and developing pro bono clearinghouses globally.

This project has been prepared jointly by Advocates for International Development (A4ID) and PILnet: the Global Network for Public Interest Law (PILnet).

A4ID is a charity registered in England and Wales and an international NGO that plays a strategic role in creating effective and efficient solutions to eradicating global poverty by utilizing the law and harnessing the skills of the legal profession to meet development needs.

A4ID inspires and enables lawyers 1)to play an active role in the fight against poverty and ensures that legal support is available to organizations involved in international development. This is achieved through its global network of leading law firms, chambers and in-house legal teams who provide pro bono legal assistance to A4ID’s international development partners that include local charities, global NGOs, social enterprises, bar associations and developing country governments. The legal support offered through this clearinghouse allows A4ID’s partners to operate more effectively, and thus increase their impact. It also assists them in influencing legislation and policy decisions, protecting rights and building a strong rule of law, in order to meet international development goals.

In partnership with lawyers and development organizations, A4ID also works to raise awareness and share knowledge about the role law can play in tackling poverty, in order to develop more effective and sustainable responses to development challenges. This is done through a program of education events, seminars and debates, as well as the dissemination of current thinking around issues of concern related to law and development.

A4ID grew out of the Oxfam 1,000 City Lawyer Initiative following the Asian tsunami of December 2004. It became a separate organization in 2006 and has grown rapidly to become a global pro bono leader.

PILnet was established in 1997 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were re-inventing themselves. At that time, the law was seen by many as a means of state control rather than an instrument for the common good. PILnet was created to promote the use of law as a tool to serve the interests of the whole of society rather than those of a powerful few.

In 2002, PILnet established an office in Budapest, Hungary, from which it coordinated efforts across Central and Eastern Europe. Subsequently, PILnet set up offices in Russia (2004) and China (2008) to address the on-the-ground needs of its international fellows as well as apply its unique approach of activating, empowering and connecting those that use legal tools to work in the public interest.

In 2007, PILnet became an independent non-profit organization (then the Public Interest Law Institute) and established a New York office; PILnet adopted its current name in 2011 to better reflect its strategy of bringing together global networks devoted to delivering justice and protecting rights.

In order to inspire lawyers to advance the public interest and strengthen the ability of civil society to influence laws and policies and assist individuals in need, PILnet develops pro bono (or volunteer) legal practice around the world. Although in recent years, lawyers and firms have become increasingly willing to undertake pro bono matters, they often lack a direct connection to the community. PILnet’s pro bono clearinghouses in Hungary, Russia, China and its cross- border Global Pro Bono Clearinghouse serve to bridge that gap between lawyers seeking opportunities to provide free legal help and those who need it.

PILnet also helps replicate its model by providing technical assistance, know-how exchange and other forms of coordination to partner clearinghouses in Europe and elsewhere, including nascent efforts in India, Nigeria, and Hong Kong. It also organizes the annual European Pro Bono Forum to provide a dynamic, multinational platform for exchange of information, skills transfer and networking related to pro bono activities on an increasingly global scale.

This site draws on the experiences of A4ID, PILnet and others in starting and managing pro bono clearinghouses.

The intention of this site is not to say that there is one right way to start and manage a pro bono clearinghouse. There is not. Instead, careful thought is required taking into account culture and context so that a clearinghouse meets local need appropriately and effectively. It is hoped that this site will act as a starting point for that process so that the shared learning of PILnet and A4ID can help to inform and encourage others working to enable access to lawyers for those otherwise unable to afford it.


The guide offers practical tools, advice and personal accounts for how to start and maintain a clearinghouse. The initial chapters introduce the concept of clearinghouses and detail the procedures for setting up and successfully running a clearinghouse, including who will be helped, how to involve the legal community, referring matters and follow-up communications. The later chapters focus on communication. Specifically, they detail how to create a supportive environment for pro bono practice and how to develop a strategy for publicizing the pro bono activities of the clearinghouse. Finally, we provide brief chapters on financial sustainability and useful contacts.

Throughout, we provide examples and refer to documents that we believe illustrate and supplement what is being discussed in the text of the guide. The appendix contains this set of documents, which are included for illustrative purposes only. These tools provide examples of the different ways clearinghouses operate, so we encourage you to use them practically. There is no right way to run a pro bono clearinghouse, and varying cultures and contexts will dictate how to operate a particular clearinghouse. It is our hope that learning from the experiences of other clearinghouses will serve as a positive example and will help guide the creation of a successful clearinghouse.

1) Throughout this site, the terms “lawyers” and “law firms” interchangeably. When the authors use the term “lawyer” it does not necessarily mean that a clearinghouse should bypass any appropriate pro bono coordinators, committees or specially-assigned pro bono partners that exist within the law firm structure.
background_to_the_guide.txt · Last modified: 2013/10/18 11:45 by jpbibby