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Creating a Supportive Environment for Pro Bono Practice


A successful pro bono practice needs a supportive environment. Supporters of pro bono include both legal and non-legal entities, and a successful pro bono practice depends, in large part, on the trust, support and loyalty of these entities.

The following chapter details who to contact in the pro bono community, and tips on how to do it.

Law Firms

Support from law firms—from large global firms to mid-sized firms and individual practition- ers—is vital to establishing and maintaining a strong pro bono community. Once a good work- ing relationship has been established, law firms can become key resources. They often gener- ously offer their financial support to clearinghouses and sponsorship of their events. They may also help develop educational and training seminars directed at NGOs or individuals helped by your clearinghouse. These public presentations give the clearinghouse greater exposure to those who need to know about it and promote the image of the clearinghouse in the pro bono community. Some of the reasons law firms get involved in pro bono work are set out below.

Bar Associations and Law Societies

Establishing long-term relationships with Bars and Law Societies can also be very valuable. Many clearinghouses have noted that cooperation and support from bar associations have facilitated their early and ongoing success. It is important to research what rules and laws apply to pro bono work in your area. Bar associations often have their own rules or codes about pro bono work, so understanding them is an important first step. You need to make sure you can legally provide pro bono work in a particular region.

In seeking connections to Bars, try to identify all possible associations and societies including those at national, regional, district, and local levels. Next, determine whether each of these has an individual designated to deal with pro bono, legal aid and/or other public interest issues and try to make contact with that person. In some cases, the president may be the most appropriate person to contact initially. Bar associations are generally well established and have numerous contacts, so starting by partnering with them can help spread the word quickly.

PBA sent a letter to the director of the Czech Lawyers Association about pro bono service, requesting cooperation and a meeting.

Bars play a variety of roles in the administration of pro bono work. Where they are supportive, it can be of great benefit to a clearinghouse, so it is worth seeking their involvement. Some Bars have started clearinghouses. In France, the Paris Bar founded the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l’Homme, which provides a clearinghouse there. Others help facilitate the public administration of pro bono work. For example, in Poland, the Bar hosts an annual “free of charge” day when it organizes lawyers to provide free legal advice. In the Czech Republic, the Bar recruits lawyers to participate in pro bono projects. In Rwanda, the Bar organizes an annual pro bono week in partnership with the courts and government.

Bars may also offer opportunities for publicity about your clearinghouse or help to organize educational opportunities. For example, the Polish Bar provides training to young lawyers through civil, criminal and family law clinics. The Czech Bar has promoted the activities of the clearinghouse, posted information on its website, helped create a pro bono award and organized workshops with the clearinghouse there. Bars are key resources and partners, even if they provide support in name alone, and offer a great way for clearinghouses to gain early legitimacy. advice, primarily to illegal immigrants. More than 20,000 people have received free legal advice to date. </box>

Law Schools and Students

Law schools and law students can play a vital role in the future advancement of the pro bono community. In a 2009 survey conducted by PILnet of 148 lawyers in fifteen different countries, fifty-seven percent of all respondents said that the greatest impediment to pro bono work is that it is “not prioritized,” and thirty-six percent indicated that pro bono is not “respected or valued generally.” Law students are sometimes taught that lawyering is just another type of business, and no information is provided to them about the social and ethical responsibility of the profession. To overcome these impediments, lawyers need to be educated on the value and benefit of pro bono practice early in their careers. If this education starts in law school, lawyers are more likely to appreciate the value of pro bono practice and it will gain respect and become prioritized in the legal community.

If a clearinghouse wants to work with law schools, it will probably need to identify which schools to contact first. Next, determine whether there is an administrator or professor in charge of pro bono work, clinics, or any other public interest administration group. If contact with the law school is not successful, you may wish to consider contacting student groups with similarly aligned goals (e.g., those interested in public interest, human rights, etc.) and see if they can encourage the development of a pro bono culture within their school. Equally, contact may also be made through one of the law firms with which a clearinghouse works. Many firms have strong relationships with local law schools.

Law students are ideal candidates to conduct pro bono work (under the supervision of a practicing lawyer). They are not constrained by the commercial pressures of an employer. Additionally, students that participate in pro bono programs increase their knowledge and marketability, gain practical experience, develop skills and facilitate their involvement in the community. University-based clinical programs, specifically, are excellent ways for law students to take part in pro bono work.

In 2012 ENCLE, the European Network for Clinical Legal Education, was set up. ENCLE will serve as an information hub and an open resource for the continent’s clinical community, including law schools, instructors, legal professionals, and NGOs. It will organize conferences, stage workshops, encourage research in the field, and facilitate information exchange through its website.
In October 2009, the International Law Unit of the Graduate Institute, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and the University of Geneva signed an agreement with the Defence Counsels of the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon establishing a law clinic in international law. Under this agreement, students from the three academic institutions will conduct research to assist lawyers representing individuals charged with war crimes appearing before these two courts.
From 1997 to 2008, twenty-five legal clinics were created in Poland. As of June 2010, Polish legal clinics involved 1,756 students, supervised by 216 lecturers, providing legal advice in almost 12,000 cases per year. The legal clinic at Warsaw University in Poland offers an opportunity to understand the practical sides to the legal profession. The women’s rights clinic there focuses on cases regarding domestic violence, employment discrimination, and reproductive rights. Throughout the year, students attend three-hour classes weekly, meet with clients once a week, and attend seminars. The success of the clinic led the Federation for Women and Family Planning to ask the clinic for legal assistance on a controversial Polish case regarding access to legal abortion. The case eventually reached the European Court for Human Rights.

One way to inform law students about the benefits of pro bono work is to organize educational seminars and workshops for them. These may be run by the clearinghouse or in conjunction with bar associations and/or law firms. Not only will seminars educate law students, but law school administrators and professors may also learn more about pro bono from them. A clearinghouse could also attempt to create a legal clinic at the school, with the approval and cooperation of the school.

In Turkey, the Bilgi clearinghouse is housed at Istanbul Bilgi University. This clearinghouse has a unique relationship with the school. It is an NGO, but it is also a part of the law school, and it has had several law firms help on pro bono cases through in-house clinics.

In the United States, clinical programs are a standard part of the legal education system, and pro bono services are often a prerequisite to graduation. Clinical programs allow students to work with clients and communities to address urgent problems, influence public policy, and improve the quality of legal problem-solving. Finally, they instill a commitment to public service and the value of pro bono work within students, while simultaneously providing an important educational learning experience. Three exemplary law school clinical programs are at:

New York University Law School

  • Thirtynine clinical programs in areas such as international human rights (in-house clinic), immigration (working with the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Unit), tax (working with the tax department of a large law firm to represent low-income taxpayers in cases before the U.S. Tax Court), environmental law (working with the Natural Resources Defense Council), and civil rights (students handle cases out of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union).

Harvard University Law School

  • Thirty clinical programs and hundreds of externships.
  • Requires that all law students complete forty hours of law-related pro bono as a condition of graduating.
  • The Class of 2009 completed more than 308,000 hours of pro bono work.

Columbia University Law School

  • Nine clinical programs.
  • Requires that all law students complete forty hours of law-related pro bono as a condition of graduating.
  • By 2009, Columbia students had contributed about 398,000 hours of pro bono service since the inception of the requirement in 1993. In 2009 alone, students contributed more than 32,000 hours of pro bono service.

Governments, State Departments and Ministries

A clearinghouse might also consider cultivating relationships with competent ministries and state agencies. Some states have specific institutions and/or departments through which citizens and/or civil society organizations can raise important legal problems and social issues. Often legal professionals are required to assist in these processes. This is one reason that government agencies may welcome a clearinghouse devoted to addressing the unmet legal needs of its citizens and NGOs. It may be useful to explain your mission to various state institutions and point out the possible benefits of these activities for citizens, as well as the good intentions of the lawyers volunteering their time and services.

PILnet's Hungarian Clearinghouse signed a cross-promotional agreement with the Hungarian Bar Association and the Legal Aid Bureau. As a result of this agreement, NGOs that are seeking legal advice but are not eligible for state legal aid are referred to PILnet’s Hungarian Clearinghouse for legal advice. Additionally, the agreement allows each organization—the Hungarian Bar Association, the Legal Aid Bureau and PILnet—to display its logo on the others’ websites.

Clearinghouses do not necessarily need to involve or contact any ministries or government officials initially. However, a clearinghouse should research the law regarding the legality of providing free legal services; publicity that could be considered illegal professional advertising; and issues related to taxation of pro bono services. These are all issues that clearinghouses have faced in various countries.

The relevant people to contact will vary for each country. However, you should consider contacting the following:

  • offices of the parliamentary or governmental commissioners (“ombudsmen”) on human rights, social affairs, etc.;
  • coordinating or supervising institutions of legal aid for citizens;
  • coordinating bodies between the state and the NGO community; and
  • national or local human rights bodies, and monitoring institutions including parliamentary or other human rights committees.

Tips for Engaging the Pro Bono Community

Business Networking

Business networking is the exchange of information, services or ideas amongst like-minded individuals. Specifically, it is a marketing technique that cultivates productive business relationships and opportunities through formal and informal networks. It is also cost-effective, requiring only personal dedication and commitment. A new clearinghouse should consider networking with the legal and non-legal professionals mentioned above to foster and maintain a positive pro bono sentiment. Arrange meetings, attend receptions, participate in roundtable discussions—anything that may be an opportunity to help the clearinghouse and to meet individuals to involve in pro bono work. As always, start with the people you know, then turn to the contacts of the people you know, then the contacts of the contacts of the people you know, and so on.

Promote Initial Success

Once a clearinghouse has built up a successful record of several pro bono matters, let people know! It could be something as small and quick as a post on the clearinghouse website or an email alert; or it could be more involved, like a newsletter or a press release. Target those groups with which you want to develop connections. See the Publicity for Pro Bono Activities section (page 55) for a more detailed examination of pro bono publicity. By promoting its initial victories, a clearinghouse will raise its profile, get lawyers involved, and help to spread the word among the NGO community.

Maintain Relationships

Once relationships have developed in the pro bono community, maintaining these relationships is vital to the continuation of a positive pro bono sentiment. Specifically, personal contact is key. Continue to reach out to NGOs. Although an NGO may not initially be sure of its legal needs, over time it may grow to understand how a clearinghouse can help with its legal issues. Continue to reach out to lawyers and law firms. Contact the lawyers who completed the pro bono survey or attended an early meeting, and remind them that the clearinghouse is still building its pro bono network. Try to put into place a way of making regular contact with the lawyers the clearinghouse has worked with.

Prepare Marketing Materials

Finally, an efficient way to continue to publicize the clearinghouse, maintain the relationships developed, and to promote the successes of the clearinghouse, is by creating marketing materials that can be widely disseminated within the pro bono community. The Publicity for Pro Bono Activities section (page 55) explores and discusses the ways in which a clearinghouse can use various forms of media to promote itself specifically, as well as pro bono generally.

The Slovenian Clearinghouse established itself through a five-step process.

1. Survey—it conducted an online survey of pro bono practice that was emailed to more than 1,000 lawyers.

2. Analysis—data obtained in the survey identified gaps which prevent pro bono practice from developing further. This allowed the clearinghouse to prepare recommendations for systematic change and development.

3. Network—it obtained support from four respected individuals, each representing a different area (a human rights ombudsman, a university professor, a well-known attorney, and the president of the Supreme Court), and the bar association.

4. Publicity—it prepared leaflets with project information, and organized roundtables to present project results to the public.

5. Full operation of the clearinghouse—it started placing matters.

creating_a_supportive_environment_for_pro_bono.txt · Last modified: 2013/10/17 09:34 by marieanne_mckeown