Pro bono clearinghouses need to be clear about whom they help and how they help them, in order to treat everyone seeking help with consistency. Doing this will allow other entities to know whether to refer people to the clearinghouse.
Similarly, it is important to be able to explain clearly to clients, lawyers and donors why the clearinghouse exists. If people are not familiar with pro bono work, they may misunderstand the purpose of the clearinghouse. Later chapters of this manual offer suggestions on how to communicate about why pro bono work is done and how a pro bono clearinghouse might be valuable.
Many clearinghouses have found that NGOs are sometimes unaware of their needs and are without legal knowledge. They are not eager to talk to lawyers as they are uncertain about the purpose of pro bono.
And it is not just NGOs who are confused about pro bono work.
Sometimes lawyers improperly consider services which are offered at a reduced price, on a “free consultation” basis, or where payment of legal fees is delayed until the end of a judicial procedure, to be “pro bono.”
Pro bono clearinghouses generally exist to make some positive difference in society, particularly for those who are most in need. Some ways pro bono clearinghouses might describe the aims and principles of a clearinghouse are:
In most jurisdictions, lawyers have exclusive access to practice law and to represent clients before a court. As a result, they have an ethical and professional obligation to provide legal services for those who would otherwise have no access to the legal system. A clearinghouse provides an easy and efﬁcient avenue for lawyers to fulﬁll this obligation.
Developing pro bono locally, for example through a local bar association in one’s home jurisdiction, is important for many reasons. First, by gaining support from the local legal community the clearinghouse may best be able to meet the legal needs of clients in an accessible way. Second, the local pro bono community is an important resource for the clearinghouse’s ﬁnancial sustainability. Finally, by supporting the local development of pro bono, a clearinghouse can improve the effectiveness of NGOs in their work for the public good and create a permanent infrastructure for pro bono work, while also promoting the legitimacy of pro bono and expanding the network of lawyers and law ﬁrms willing to perform such work in the future.
Sometimes a domestic pro bono clearinghouse will not be able to help with all the different types of legal requests that people or organizations have. For example, an organization may need advice on the law from a country other than the one it is located in, or it may need advice on international law or global comparative law. In these situations, it can be useful for a client to be able to approach a global pro bono clearinghouse, such as A4ID’s or PILnet’s Global Pro Bono Clearinghouse. These types of clearinghouses get requests and ﬁnd lawyers to help from all over the world.