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Procedures for Establishing and Running a Pro Bono Clearinghouse

Relationship with Clients and Lawyers

The key to running a successful clearinghouse is ensuring lawyers and clients know about it! That may sound obvious, but it will not happen automatically. How the lawyers and clients are selected will make a big difference to the nature of the clearinghouse.

Whom a Clearinghouse Helps

Some clearinghouses help organizations such as charities and other NGOs. Others also help individuals, either directly or through their client NGOs. It is important to be clear about who can receive a clearinghouse’s help finding lawyers and to set guidelines for deciding whether a particular individual or organization falls within the clearinghouse’s scope.

Some options for defining who can be a client of a clearinghouse include:

  • people in financial need, defined by level of income and/or assets or a “means test” (i.e., a determination of the level of a person’s means of support);
  • people affected by a particular issue, such as women affected by domestic violence;
  • organizations working towards certain aims or focusing on a particular geographic location;
  • and/or any non-profit entity meeting financial criteria or other indicia of need.
A4ID selects its clients on the basis of whether the organization in some way seeks to eradicate poverty and further the UN Millennium Development Goals.
PILnet works with any non-profit or charitable organization that is independent and works for the public interest or for social good.

A common mechanism used by clearinghouses to assess NGO clients is the “Three Ms”— mission, matter, means.

  • Mission—Does the NGO have a “public benefit” mission?
  • Matter—If they are not a public benefit or human rights NGO, do they still qualify because the particular matter they need help with would benefit the public?
  • Means—Despite having neither a public benefit mission nor matter, does the NGO still qualify because neither it nor its members have the means to afford a lawyer?

Screening and Vetting Clients

Screening and vetting is a procedure to select clients and cases based on a set of criteria and overall assessment of the client. Consideration should be given regarding the extent to which the clearinghouse will assess clients, who can be organizations, individuals or both. This should be made clear to the lawyers who may be relying on the clearinghouse to refer only a certain type of client. Clearinghouses should be as transparent as possible about the vetting or screening they do and the criteria that they use.

Screening and vetting is important for a clearinghouse’s legitimacy. Lawyers and law firms that agree to take on pro bono matters rely heavily on the clearinghouses’ screening function. A clearinghouse, especially a new one, cannot risk damaging its reputation because it did not properly screen a potential client in accordance with a publicized vetting procedure.

For example, when clearinghouses assist organizations, the clearinghouse must decide whether checks will be done on the organizations’:

  • financial position,
  • governance, transparency and accountability standards,
  • trustees, directors and/or staff (e.g., to ensure there is no association with terrorism or other criminal activity), and/or
  • aims and principles.

For an organization to be eligible for pro bono services through a clearinghouse, it may need to meet criteria regarding transparency.

Often, clearinghouses require NGOs to fill out some sort of preliminary intake form that solicits basic information from the NGO, or otherwise conducts basic background research on the organization.

The Pro Bono Alliance (PBA) in the Czech Republic uses several forms. It uses an initial form to be filled out by the NGOs that have expressed interest in pro bono services and it asks about specific services they may need help with. PBA also has a second form for NGOs to fill out when an NGO has a particular matter about which to make a request. See Appendix 1, Form for NGOs Interested in Pro Bono; Appendix 2, Pro Bono Request Form for NGOs.

PILnet’s Global Clearinghouse carefully considers each NGO that wants to receive pro bono services through its clearinghouses. It screens potential clients for infrastructure, good business practices, open communication, and professionalism. Generally, when a new client is being considered, PILnet will conduct basic background research on the NGO by checking its website, its donors, annual reports, active projects and partners. Vetting is done on a case by case basis.

The Instituto Pro Bono, the first clearinghouse in Brazil, screens its potential NGO clients to ensure that they are “legitimate, committed and financially strapped.”

Sometimes clearinghouses place legal matters for individuals. When working with individuals, it also is important to take careful precautions screening the individuals to ensure that they are eligible for pro bono services. Apart from income levels, clearinghouses may choose to examine other criteria, such as whether the person has already received legal advice on the issue. See Appendix 3, Intake Form for NGO Matters.

Clearinghouses may also want to consider:

  • A process to ensure that those individuals eligible to receive government-funded legal aid services are directed to those services. Clearinghouse services should be directed to those ineligible for legal aid yet unable to afford to pay for legal assistance.
  • Whether to conduct additional means testing to ensure that help is going only to those individuals least financially able to afford legal assistance. Conducting means testing ensures that lawyers’ pro bono efforts are going to those most in need while providing reassurance to the legal profession that the clearinghouse is not “stealing” clients otherwise able to pay for a lawyer’s services. This must be balanced against the fact that thorough means testing of individuals can require extensive clearinghouse resources.
  • Building a referral network—if a clearinghouse is unable to assist a potential client with his/her legal needs, it may still assist by referring the individual to an organization that can help.
  • Providing appropriate training and supervision to the individuals who will be handling the client intake. Where a clearinghouse uses volunteers or law students to conduct client intake, it is important to ensure that they are adequately trained and supervised by a qualified lawyer.
PBA (Czech Republic) requires individuals to complete a declaration of means and financial status in order to obtain pro bono legal services. After the individual has been approved, PBA then has the individual complete the specific request form for pro bono services, similar to the form NGOs fill out for their own needs. PBA has also developed a relationship with the Association of Citizen Advice Bureaus in the Czech Republic. The advice bureaus often obtain pro bono assistance for individuals through PBA. As a result, PBA has created a special intake form just for the advice bureaus because they cannot use the standard PBA form. PBA has recognized that the advice bureaus are an important resource for obtaining clients, so it was flexible and accommodating to the association.

Some clearinghouses provide services to both individuals and NGOs.

Queensland Public Interest Law Clearinghouse Incorporated (QPILCH), in Australia, has one application form for both individuals and NGOs. For individuals, it asks various questions, including their income, their household gross annual income and their personal net income after taxes. For NGOs, it asks whether they have applied for legal aid before for this matter and who their current and previous legal advisors are, among other items.

On the first page of its application form, available on its website, QPILCH also provides a timeline of what the application process will entail in order to manage the expectations of applicants. The process is as follows:

Step 1 - Complete the application form. Please complete ALL applicable sections.

Step 2 - Return the form along with photocopies (not originals) of any relevant information and supporting documents. In particular, please provide copies of any court or tribunal documents.

Step 3 - QPILCH will acknowledge receipt of your application by letter or email. Step 4 QPILCH will assess your matter based on our eligibility criteria.

Step 5 - If you are eligible for assistance and your matter is successfully referred to a lawyer for pro bono assistance, QPILCH will advise you of the lawyer’s details for you to contact to take the matter further.

Step 6 - If the matter does not fit QPILCH criteria or cannot be referred, we will write to you explaining why we are unable to assist you.

While QPILCH tries to assess applications as quickly as possible, due to limited resources and a high volume of applications, it may take more than two weeks to get back to you.

What Types of Matters Are Included?

Some clearinghouses will only seek volunteer lawyers for matters that comply with certain criteria. Some ways of narrowing the work could include:

  • family and children’s law matters,
  • matters in the public interest,
  • matters that affect a large group of people or a marginalized section of society,
  • matters that can be undertaken in less than three days of work,
  • matters that are not eligible for publicly funded legal aid,
  • advice only, not representation in court, and
  • only matters that have good prospects of success (a “merits test”).

Additionally, some clearinghouses not only provide access to lawyers willing to take on cases, but they also arrange for lawyers to deliver legal training sessions or workshops for NGOs.

PILnet partnered with UNICEF, the law firm Kinstellar, and the Pontis Foundation to offer private lawyers the professional training they need to serve as pro bono advocates for minors. The collaboration culminated in a series of workshops in Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest. These workshops brought real-world expertise to working attorneys and increased the pool of pro bono lawyers available to UNICEF.

How Will Potential Clients Be Contacted?

Most people will not know to go straight to a clearinghouse if they need help to find a lawyer. In fact, they may not even know they need a lawyer or that some lawyers may be willing to act at no cost. It is, therefore, important to build up strong networks with the people to whom potential clients will go when they are in need, for example, social workers, government agencies (including the courts), professional bodies (e.g., local bar association or law society), NGO umbrella organizations and NGO resource centers, in the case of individuals, and sector- specific networks, in the case of organizations. The NGO community is usually a small circle of people who know and trust each other. If a clearinghouse is able to find a few initial supporters within this community, it will gain legitimacy. Those initial supporters can serve as “agents” of the clearinghouse and can help spread information about it within the NGO community.

A clearinghouse may wish to identify NGOs that it believes are doing good professional work in their respective fields. Once you have researched these NGOs, you can arrange to meet with them individually and discuss their legal needs with them.

Best practice in making first contact with NGOs:

The purpose of the initial email or letter sent by the clearinghouse is to establish contact with a non-profit organization and to offer pro bono services to it. You might consider including the following five elements:
  • personal introduction of the writer of the letter;
  • introduction of the organization (clearinghouse);
  • introduction of the clearinghouse’s pro bono program: this could include success stories, number of matters placed, and examples of the types of matters NGOs have been helped with;
  • recognition of the NGO and the importance of its activities; and
  • request for a conference call to discuss possible ways of cooperation.

If the NGO does not respond to the email within five business days, you may wish to resend the email or telephone the organization directly.

Speaking at conferences, attending NGO events to disseminate information, and distributing newsletters are some ways to promote your clearinghouse. By networking with leaders of the non-profit sector, a clearinghouse should be able to locate and target NGOs that could benefit from lawyers’ pro bono help. However it is done, the task of making contact with those who most need legal assistance is very important and will demonstrate to the community your commitment and legitimacy.

When The Peace Institute in Slovenia initially started, it held group meetings with NGOs to present the clearinghouse, explain its purpose, and invite them to think of legal matters they could use legal advice on. At these meetings, the clearinghouse presented the NGOs with examples of legal matters from other countries’ NGOs and explained how free legal advice could be used in different contexts, e.g., training, advocacy. The meetings were organized as roundtables, allowing for interactive participation. Subsequently, the clearinghouse also held individual meetings with NGOs that expressed interest in obtaining legal counsel on specific matters. These meetings led to legal matters being successfully placed with law firms and lawyers.

PILnet-Moscow’s Clearinghouse also had a strategic approach to initial NGO outreach:

  • First, it gave a presentation at the Russian American Chamber of Commerce, NGO/Corporate
  • Committee (which focused on corporate social responsibility issues).
  • Then it followed that presentation with a discussion with the CEO of United Way of Russia, which finances charity programs in Russia. This discussion highlighted the opportunities of receiving pro bono services to their grantees.
  • Then it organized a training on “how to be a pro bono client” for NGOs.

These efforts promoted the clearinghouse, while also yielding the clearinghouse its first requests for pro bono assistance.

How you contact potential clients will also depend on who they are. For example, if you are trying to help communities in financial need where there are high levels of illiteracy, relying on email will be ineffective. If you are based far away from those you are helping, you will need to consider what use you can make of the phone and Internet. Consideration should be given to whether clients need to apply in writing and what service will be provided by phone or email. A clearinghouse might consider creating a simple flyer or one-page brochure which outlines how a clearinghouse could help an NGO and whether the NGO is eligible for pro bono assistance.

How Will Lawyers Become Involved?

The legal community plays a critical role in achieving the clearinghouse’s objectives. First, lawyers provide the actual pro bono service—voluntarily agreeing to provide free professional services to NGOs and individuals. Second, they provide essential financial, educational and promotional support to the pro bono community.

A clearinghouse may consider the following when reaching out to law firms

  • Identify lawyers and law firms in your city that are most likely to take pro bono matters, such as:
    • international law firms,
    • in-house lawyers at international corporations, or
    • large domestic law firms.
  • Research each individual law firm to determine the most appropriate person to contact for a meeting. This may include:
    • pro bono coordinator
    • director of corporate social responsibility
    • If there is no person in either of these roles, then consider looking at the law firm’s different programs, events, training, or practice areas. Identify any lawyers that have been involved in any possible public interest or similar areas.
  • Contact the most appropriate person to arrange a meeting.
  • Meet with representatives from the firms in order to:
    • introduce the clearinghouse and its mission;
    • discuss the benefits of a law firm’s support of pro bono practice:
      • This is a chance to give back to society by helping people who cannot otherwise obtain a lawyer.
      • It is personally rewarding to those involved.
      • It contributes to the lawyer/law firm’s positive image and reputation in the community.
      • It is an opportunity to develop skills, gain experience and enhance training of the firm’s lawyers.
      • It can help recruit new, talented lawyers.
      • It can bring an issue to court that may not otherwise be heard.
      • Many clients value a firm’s pro bono efforts and may consider a firm’s dedication to pro bono when looking to hire a law firm.
      • A firm that participates in pro bono may be seen as a desirable strategic partner in a potential client’s charitable activities. A strategic partnership with a potential client in a corporate social responsibility project may strengthen the client/firm relationship and lead to billable work for a firm.
      • It can be an enjoyable challenge that would not otherwise be available.
      • It helps to build public confidence in lawyers and the justice system generally.
    • Encourage them to identify a pro bono coordinator or one key person who will be the contact person for the clearinghouse. This is essential for effective communication with the clearinghouse as well as for developing a pro bono program at the firm. If possible, suggest an individual by identifying that person in advance (e.g., people that used to work for NGOs or who have shown a clear interest in this area through networking opportunities).
PILnet's Hungarian and Russian Clearinghouses each organize a pro bono coordinators committee meeting several times a year where the pro bono coordinators of law firms and a select number of NGOs meet for a breakfast or lunch. The meetings serve as an opportunity for NGOs to meet and network with law firms, give presentations, obtain feedback on the clearinghouse and generally raise issues.

The Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo) in the United States is dedicated to the support and professional development of full time pro bono counsel and coordinators at commercial law firms. APBCo currently has more than 120 members from more than 85 law firms. ABPCo does not provide pro bono legal services or references to pro bono legal service agencies.

Use the legal network that the clearinghouse has already established as your advocates and encourage them to promote to their contacts the value of being involved in the clearinghouse. Personal contacts are crucial. Many large law firms have pro bono coordinators, or directors of corporate social responsibility who are responsible for screening and disseminating the pro bono matters to the appropriate lawyers in their firm. Relationships with these individuals should be properly maintained and carefully managed.

A clearinghouse can get lawyers and law firms involved in other ways:

Pro Bono Declaration

Several clearinghouses have drafted “Pro Bono Declarations,” affirmations of the ethical and professional commitment to advancing the public good through pro bono legal services. A clearinghouse can then use a declaration to reach out to law firms and encourage them to sign it, as well as a means of promoting the clearinghouse.

Centrum Pro Bono in Poland organized a meeting at the Polish Constitutional Tribunal hosted by the Tribunal president. There were approximately thirty high-profile guests from the Warsaw offices of international law firms, domestic law firms, bar association representatives and PILnet. Meeting participants signed the Pro Bono Publico Declaration, affirming their commitment to pro bono principles. This was a great way to get members of the legal community involved with committing to pro bono, and as a way to promote the clearinghouse generally.

Pro Bono Survey

A pro bono survey is another way to reach out to law firms and assess their interest in pro bono. It is important to make sure the survey is quick and easy to complete. A carefully constructed and narrowly tailored survey allows a clearinghouse to see the kinds of pro bono work in which law firms are interested. Conclude the survey by asking whether the lawyer would like to take part in pro bono services provided by the clearinghouse. Surveys may be conducted via direct mail, email or online through surveying services like Survey Monkey.

Advisory Council

Another approach is to create a pro bono advisory council for your clearinghouse. The advisory council can be drawn from pro bono coordinators or prominent partners of law firms, who can help guide your future efforts in maintaining and developing your links with local firms and funders. For example, PILnet’s Pro Bono Advisory Council meets once a year and has an honorary president, co-chairs and members from prominent law firms. In addition to lawyers, an advisory council could also include judges, academics and senior level representatives from the organizations that the clearinghouse helps.

Each jurisdiction has different rules about how lawyers can operate. For example, in some jurisdictions, lawyers can only give advice as part of their law firm due to insurance and practice requirements. In other jurisdictions, lawyers are allowed to give pro bono advice in their personal capacity (that is, not through their firm). The rules in a particular jurisdiction can help a clearinghouse decide whether it will only work through law firms or also with individual lawyers. Whatever is decided, a clearinghouse should ensure that the lawyers have appropriate expertise, insurance and, if applicable, supervision, to guarantee the pro bono work is done to the same professional standards as fee-earning work and meets all local regulatory standards. Lawyers become involved in pro bono work for many different reasons. Later chapters of this manual offer suggestions for how to promote a pro bono culture within your area.

Agreements Between Parties

Upon identifying an NGO with a legal problem and a lawyer able to assist, some clearinghouses will require one or both of these parties enter into an agreement. These agreements generally describe and define the terms and conditions of the pro bono service between the clearinghouse, the NGO and the lawyers. The advantage of such an agreement is that it builds a consensus on standards and expectations amongst all those working with the clearinghouse. Often, law firms require the submission of corporate or personal documents as a prerequisite to these agreements.

A4ID asks all its lawyers and clients to sign a letter confirming agreement to its “Governing Code” before finalizing the allocation of any project.

Law firms that access Centrum Pro Bono’s program in Poland sign a general agreement that does not commit them to a set number of hours or projects, but allows them to adapt their pro bono commitments to their current workloads. Centrum Pro Bono does not require law firms or NGOs to sign any additional agreements. Other clearinghouses, like PILnet’s Global Clearinghouse, do not require parties to sign contracts or agreements.

Preparing Requests

Evaluating the Requests

The individuals and organizations being helped can often be unfamiliar with legal processes and concepts. Therefore, they will benefit from assistance on scoping and assessing their legal needs and putting them into language which the legal community will understand. This is a core function of most clearinghouses. If the request falls outside the areas with which lawyers can assist, then ideally a clearinghouse should look to refer them on to another organization. In order to do this, it is important to maintain a good network of contacts. Depending on the client group served, it may be useful to consider training staff on dealing with people who are particularly distressed.

Drafting the Requests

The description of the legal work needed must be clear, carefully written and concise, so that a lawyer can quickly and easily understand the request. PILnet has drafted guidelines for how to summarize NGOs’ legal needs, which it distributes to NGOs when necessary. PILnet also uses this document internally as a guide on how to draft a matter that is sent to law firms. See Appendix 13, Guideline for NGOs: How to Summarize Your Legal Needs.

When writing the description of the request provided to lawyers, consider the following:

  • explain why the legal advice or assistance is needed;
  • present the impact the legal work will have;
  • describe how the matter/client fulfills the clearinghouse’s criteria (and therefore why the matter should be done pro bono);
  • outline what work is requested;
  • describe who the client is (consider, however, whether it is necessary to anonymize the client);
  • mention other entities involved in the matter and their role;
  • specify the timeframe for the work;
  • present the type of lawyers needed for the work; and
  • analyze how the lawyers’ final product will be used by and be useful for the client.

Circulating and Allocating the Requests

There are many ways in which requests for legal assistance may be made known to participating lawyers. The method chosen will be affected by the number of requests coming through to the clearinghouse. Different models for communicating requests include:

  • circulating all requests to all lawyers/firms on a circulation list;
  • circulating requests only to a sub-group of lawyers based on their relevant expertise;
  • selecting lawyers from a database based on how recently they’ve taken on a pro bono matter;
  • contacting individual lawyers/firms directly regarding a particular request;
  • sending requests out monthly/weekly; and
  • posting all requests on a website for lawyers to review whenever convenient.

The method by which you distribute requests can also vary from emails, to personal phone calls, to posting requests online. It is important that the method chosen is kept under review and discussed regularly with participating lawyers. It is also important to manage the expectations of participating lawyers as to how often they can undertake a pro bono project and, where multiple lawyers volunteer for the same project, to ensure that the process for selecting a particular lawyer for a particular matter is as transparent as possible.

When sending emails, it is important to keep in mind that lawyers are quite busy juggling many different tasks and communications throughout the day. It is best to

  • provide a short summary of all the matters up front so the lawyers can quickly browse;
  • keep the longer explanations of the matters clear and concise; and
  • avoid attachments; they are ignored because they take longer to open and/or are difficult to read on a Blackberry or other smart phone.

A possible advantage of communicating requests on the same day each week/month is that, over time, lawyers may start to anticipate receiving the emails and it may become a part of their schedules in some way.

Different approaches to communicating about clearinghouse matters suit different organizations.

A4ID sends out a weekly email detailing all project requests and has found this method to be effective.

Centrum Pro Bono, in Poland, posts a list of current matters on its website in order to enable lawyers to review and select matters according to their own schedule.

PILnet’s Global Clearinghouse distributes its matters via email every two weeks. As you can see, different approaches suit different clearinghouses.

In many instances, only one lawyer will volunteer for a matter, and if it is a good match the lawyer gets the case. However, sometimes more than one lawyer will volunteer for a matter and the clearinghouse then has to choose which lawyer or firm will get the matter. It is important to have a clear policy on how requests are allocated (that is, which lawyers or law firms are chosen) so that lawyers know what they can expect and to avoid any perception of bias. Different criteria include:

  • relevant expertise;
  • how recently a firm/lawyer has been assigned a matter;
  • which lawyer is the first to contact the clearinghouse to express interest; and
  • the best overall match for the NGO. Consider factors like:
    • which law firm has the most appropriate resources;
    • which law firm has the most reliable track record;
    • which law firm can put together the best team of lawyers; and
    • the languages required for the matter. This is an issue that may make one law firm better equipped than another.
PILnet allocates matters according to the best interests of the client. If more than one lawyer or firm can offer comparable expertise and experience then PILnet will consider how many times the law firm has requested a matter, how many times they have actually gotten the matter, and how many times their assistance has been turned down. This helps to keep the allocation process equitable.

After the clearinghouse has chosen the appropriate lawyer or law firm to handle the matter, several important communications must take place. First, you must inform the selected lawyer or law firm that it is getting the case for which it volunteered. It is also important to ask the lawyer or law firm to confirm that there is no conflict of interest that prevents it advising the client. Rules about the implementation of this principle may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it is important to understand this well and any other professional standards that apply to the provision of legal services. A clearinghouse should never consider a matter assigned until after the lawyer or law firm confirms that there are no conflicts and confirms that it can take the matter.

Next, the clearinghouse must contact the lawyers who volunteered for the matter, but were not chosen for it. You want to maintain a good relationship with them because you want them to volunteer for matters in the future. Thus, it is very important not to ignore these individuals. Finally, you need to inform the client that a law firm has agreed to take on its matter. In the event that the clearinghouse is unable to place a matter with a law firm, the clearinghouse also needs to communicate this to the NGO and ideally suggest other ways in which it might be able to get the needed assistance.

Referring a Matter

Once the lawyers have been chosen, it is important to consider how the clearinghouse will introduce them to the clients. Options at this stage include:

  • having a clearinghouse staff member present at the first meeting between the lawyer and the client;
  • introducing the client and the lawyer by email or telephone and allowing them to make future contact with each other; and
  • sending a letter to the client and the lawyer.

However you introduce the lawyer and the client, it is important to ensure that everyone involved knows exactly what the lawyer has agreed to do. Many clearinghouses prefer clients to contact the clearinghouse if they need more help after the initial request. This ensures that the lawyers do not get repeatedly contacted by the client after the agreed-upon work has been completed. Depending on the NGO, the law firm and the clearinghouses’ relationship with each of the parties, it may sometimes be helpful to sit in on the first call between them. This is a matter of discretion. It is also important to keep track of the matters in an organized and detailed manner, for example, in a database.

PILnet often introduces parties via email. In this email, PILnet provides everyone’s contact information and usually asks that the law firm to organize the first call.

PILnet also keeps a matters database, which tracks each matter, the NGO, the lawyer(s) that volunteered to take the case, their contact information and even the time, date and substance of the written communications between the clearinghouse and the parties.

Involvement after the Referral

After the pro bono work has been allocated, the level of involvement by the clearinghouse depends on the nature of the matter and the parties involved. Generally, a clearinghouse has limited involvement.

Unlike in many clearinghouses, in France the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l’Homme continues to stay involved. In fact, the Alliance acts as the intermediary between the NGO and the law firm. The NGO and law firm actually have no direct contact, unless the issue is very complex, or there are confidentiality concerns.

For those clearinghouses that choose to limit their involvement after the referral, it may still be beneficial to contact the NGO a month or two after the matter has begun to follow-up and find out how the matter is progressing, as problems sometimes arise well after the matter was first assigned. It is important to have proper systems, e.g., a “tickler” system that provides calendar reminders for this purpose. Often, as a result of the meeting between the NGO and the law firm, the content of the original pro bono request changes. For example, previously unknown issues may be discovered, or the NGO and law firm may sign a long-term cooperation agreement. In this event, the clearinghouse should be kept apprised of the terms of the new relationship and update its database accordingly. Also, a follow-up correspondence allows a clearinghouse to ask whether the NGO has other, new matters for the clearinghouse.

This type of communication serves two purposes. First, it allows the clearinghouse to determine whether the cases it is placing are successfully progressing. Occasionally, an NGO might report a problem such as miscommunication, lack of communication, failure to receive a final product, etc. Second, this type of follow-up promotes the maintenance of this relationship and serves as an opportunity to obtain more matters from the NGO.

In the event a problem is reported by the NGO or by the law firm, it is recommended to communicate with both parties to fix the problem. Do not assume that one side has reported the problem accurately. Clearinghouses have an interest and obligation to ensure that the problem is resolved fairly, there is a good relationship between the parties, the matter is completed in a reasonable time frame and the NGO is satisfied. This may not always be possible, but the clearinghouse should always remain professional and ensure that high standards are consistently met by all participants in the clearinghouse.

When the pro bono work has been completed, it is often helpful to assess its impact. This helps demonstrate the value of the clearinghouse and shows whether the clearinghouse is meeting its aims. Collecting feedback on the pro bono work can also encourage more lawyers to get involved. Feedback can be obtained by a survey, email, phone call or in-person meeting, depending on the nature of the clients and the clearinghouse. Law firms are often very interested in hearing about this feedback as it helps them to continue to promote pro bono work within their firm and to their fee-paying clients.

QPILCH uses “Matter Closure Reports” to assess the outcome of pro bono matters and how much work was done by the lawyers involved.

Centrum Pro Bono (Poland) has developed a satisfaction questionnaire for clients to evaluate completed projects.

Additionally, a clearinghouse might consider sending thank you letters to the lawyer(s) that took a case through the clearinghouse. Generally, thank you letters should be addressed to the team leader of each pro bono matter. This person is often (but not always) a partner under whose supervision the work was performed, or a lawyer who agreed to take on the specific matter on behalf of the firm after it was referred by a pro bono coordinator. All lawyers who worked on the project and relevant law firm pro bono coordinators should receive a copy of the letter.

Pro Bono Aliance sent a “Thank You Certificate for Cooperation in PBA's First Year” to law firms. Gestures like this encourage lawyers to take pro bono matters in the future.

Guidance for Successfully Effecting Communication Between Lawyers and Clients

It is often the case that pro bono clients do not have experience working with lawyers. Similarly, lawyers may not be accustomed to working with clients that lack basic knowledge about what a lawyer’s role is. Therefore, clearinghouses should consider communicating the following tips to lawyers and clients to help successfully effect communication between lawyers and pro bono clients.

Tips for Lawyers’ Communication With Clients

Pro bono clients may have less experience in dealing with lawyers than commercial clients, so lawyers may need to learn new skills to ensure they provide an effective service to them. See Appendix 16, Pro Bono Representations: Tips for Volunteer Lawyers.

The following tips may be helpful for lawyers to consider:

  • Explain the nature of the lawyer-client relationship (this may be set out in an engagement letter, following an initial explanation by the clearing house).
  • Manage expectations by clearly outlining the scope of your work and advice, the likely timeline and potential prospects of success.
  • Talk about fees and expenses at the outset. The client may feel uneasy until you confirm that the work will be done at no cost. If there will be any expenses that the client may need to pay (e.g., court filing fees), explain this to them at the first meeting.
  • Explain that any information the client gives you will be treated in confidence, and, if helpful, explain the concept of legal privilege.
  • Be flexible with appointment times.
  • Ask the client to bring all their documents to your first meeting or send them in advance. This should include all relevant paperwork, records of conversations, correspondence and any other piece of information however small.
  • Ask the client to bring their own contact information as well as the contact information of any other individuals who can help the lawyer facilitate communication with the client.
  • Ask the client to bring the contact details for any other parties involved, including any adverse parties, previous lawyers, government officials/departments or organizations that have been involved.
  • Bear in mind the client’s financial situation, e.g., offer to make calls, send letters and avoid asking the client to incur travel costs.
  • Encourage the client to ask questions.
  • If for some reason your firm can no longer provide the advice or if you as an individual leave your position, try to find another lawyer to assist, or contact the clearinghouse to help with this.

Tips for Clients’ Communication With Lawyers

Many NGO staff or individuals have never worked alongside lawyers before accessing a pro bono clearinghouse and will, therefore, have little knowledge or experience of the processes involved in pro bono legal work. A clearinghouse should consider how best to explain to potential clients all that they need to know about working with lawyers. It may be helpful to make a list of points for the client to think about before meeting their lawyer. See Appendix 17, Pro Bono Representations: Tips for Clients.

Lawyers often have professional obligations that require them to obtain certain documents and information from their clients. These may include:

  • certified copy of passport (for an NGO, of one or more of the directors/trustees),
  • certified copy of utility bill (for an NGO, of one or more of the directors/trustees),
  • company document, and
  • evidence of legal and official ownership.

It is important that clients understand that these are regulatory matters about which lawyers tend to have little control.

It should be stressed to clients that their lawyer will need to be in contact with them. As a result, if they are expecting to be away they should let their lawyers know and/or provide details of an alternative contact.

establishing_and_running_a_pro_bono_clearinghouse.txt · Last modified: 2013/10/17 09:28 by marieanne_mckeown