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Publicity for Pro Bono Activities


Once a supportive environment for pro bono practice has been created, a clearinghouse can start to utilize the media for its benefit. Specifically, publicizing the activities of a clearinghouse helps to:

  1. create and develop a positive pro bono sentiment; and
  2. promote the clearinghouse to those in need of free legal services and the legal professionals willing to provide it.

By providing information to the mass media, larger segments of the population will know about pro bono activities. As a result, the clearinghouse contributes to the positive image of pro bono practice, to the goals of the clearinghouse and to the general image of legal professionals.

Using the Media to Generate a Positive Pro Bono Sentiment

Internet Tools and Other Media

Not surprisingly, the Internet is the number one tool used by most clearinghouses. The Internet allows an organization to quickly publish ideas and information to a massive audience at a greatly reduced expense.


A website is extremely important. Often, the first thing people do when they want to know more about an organization is to look it up on the Internet. As a result, a clearinghouse should

consider launching a website as soon as possible. A thorough and easy-to-use website can help give a clearinghouse legitimacy in the eyes of the public, lawyers, clients and donors, which serves its long-term interest.

After purchasing a domain name for the website, an organization can design its website in whatever manner it chooses. Many content management systems are available free as open source software and allow for the creation of templates and customization of content. Other more sophisticated systems are also available for purchase.

The style, structure and content of a website will evolve as the clearinghouse develops. However, the website should always try to:

  • give basic information about the organization and/or the clearinghouse, including contact information, purpose, mission, goals, etc.;
  • contain information about news and events—calendar, recent matters and victories;
  • allow a user to subscribe to a newsletter/mailing list;
  • contain practical/educational materials, resources;
  • positively promote the organization; and
  • include a link to make donations!

Once the clearinghouse has developed proper processes for taking donations, the website should contain a link to help people do this easily. This can be achieved by establishing an online merchant account (like PayPal) that will collect donations on behalf of the organization.

Mailing Lists

A mailing list is a collection of names and addresses used by an individual or an organization to send material to multiple recipients. Specifically, an electronic mailing list is a list of email addresses stored on a mail server, to which an organization can distribute information through one email address. This single email address, called a reflector, becomes designated as the recipient of the email address. When an email is sent to that reflector, the email is distributed to all the emails in that particular mailing list. A mailing list is particularly useful for sending out e-newsletters and announcements.

Strategic mailing lists can help an organization with the following:

  • increase communication among the clients of the clearinghouse interested in or participating in the services of the clearinghouse;
  • generate dialogue and raise awareness about domestic or international pro bono work; and
  • inform participants about the activities of a clearinghouse, upcoming events and programs.


A more developed way of capitalizing on the contacts of a clearinghouse is by creating a regular newsletter. A newsletter, particularly an e-newsletter, is a cheap and easy way to disseminate information about an organization to large numbers of people. The e-newsletter is a sophisticated tool that can easily distribute information about trends and developments in pro bono work and promote the activities of NGOs, clearinghouses and law firms.

E-newsletter services are available online for little to no cost. Services like iContact or Constant Contact, have tools for creating templates for the structure of the e-newsletter, and track users’ interaction with an e-newsletter—how many people opened a particular document or story, clicked on a particular link, how many emails bounced back, etc.

For example, PILnet distributes a quarterly e-newsletters: Doing Justice . For examples, visit A4ID sends out a regular email update and a longer quarterly hardcopy newsletter.

Social Networking Sites

Social networking websites have become the cheapest and fastest way to promote the activities of an organization. Websites like, and, have revolutionized the way individuals, groups and organizations can promote, receive and distribute information.

Web-based social networking platforms, like Facebook, allow users to create a profile, add friends, send messages and generally interact and inform others about their happenings. LinkedIn is a professional social networking site that allows registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know and trust in business. Twitter is a free social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers.

Facebook in particular is a great place for a new organization to start. If an organization cannot afford to purchase a domain name and maintain a website, Facebook allows the organization to create a “fan page” for free. A fan page works similarly to a website and allows a clearinghouse to inform others about its mission and goals, invite members, send status updates and messages to fans, post information about upcoming events and conferences, upload photos, share videos, and even promote its fan page with a Facebook advertisement. A budding NGO can work entirely from a Facebook fan page in the beginning. Keep in mind, however, that Facebook has its limitations—your audience is limited to the users of Facebook and, more specifically, only those who have become your “fans.” It is not as professional as a website and it does not allow a clearinghouse to have all the features a website might have. Many organizations use Facebook as a supplement to a website.


A blog is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual, which contains regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, and/or other material such as graphics and videos. A blog can contain the information that is not provided on the main page of a clearinghouse website. It is one way to provide more information about the clearinghouse activities or some interesting stories, which are the result of the pro bono work in a fast, easy-to-use setting. A blog is generally less formal than a clearinghouse website, allowing users to expand on issues, raise discussion topics and post commentary. Some blogs also have special discussion boards where readers (individuals, law firms and NGOs) can post their comments and requests. It is an inexpensive way to keep followers up to date, but it relies on people checking the site or choosing to follow your comments. Be sure to include a link to the web page of the clearinghouse or its partners on the blog.

Other Digital Media

Digital videos and podcasts are cheap and easy forms of do-it-yourself publicity, and may be useful tools for new clearinghouses. Digital cameras may be used to create videos that can be put online and then widely disseminated. A clearinghouse could record speeches, lectures, and training sessions, as well as interviews with former clients, NGOs and lawyers to help generate a positive pro bono sentiment. This recorded material can be turned into a digital video and posted on a website, Facebook fan page, blog or YouTube. If a particular video gets viewed enough, a larger, conventional media outlet could pick up the story, creating even more publicity.

A podcast may also be a useful tool for clearinghouses. A podcast is a series of digital media files (either audio or video) that are released episodically and downloaded from the web. If audio is already recorded, an editing program is all that is needed to create a podcast. There are free editing programs available, like Audacity, and there are expensive but much more sophisticated ones, such as Protools. A clearinghouse can also use video editing software to edit both video and audio. provides many tips and advice on making podcasts.

The publications of the legal community provide a wealth of resources for a clearinghouse. Daily, weekly and monthly magazines, newspapers, journals and newsletters are circulated amongst legal professionals. Start with the clearinghouse’s network. Most Bars have one or more publications. Once a relationship with the local Bars has been formed, use them as a resource and disseminate information to its audiences. These publications are excellent ways to promote the work of the clearinghouse and organization as a whole.

A clearinghouse may wish to generate press and advertise itself outside of the legal community. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television are all useful in promoting and strengthening the activities of a clearinghouse. A clearinghouse could advertise itself, promote upcoming events, and even provide human interest stories from a successful pro bono matter to these news outlets. Additionally, securing coverage from one source of media often sparks the attention of other sources.

Once the clearinghouse has the proper time and personnel, it might be helpful to write a media strategy on ways to utilize these news outlets. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television can be difficult to approach. If time and money will allow, media research can help to determine which individuals are writing about the legal world, the third sector, and public interest matters. Developing relationships with key reporters in a variety of media outlets is one way to start. Network with these individuals, invite them to lunch or coffee, introduce the clearinghouse and its goals and successes. Send these reporters the clearinghouse’s press releases and invite them to its upcoming events.

It is very important to remember that any information given to the media must be accurate. Otherwise, the result may be damaging to a clearinghouse’s credibility and legitimacy. It is also important that all necessary consents from lawyers and clients are obtained before information is released.


There are a variety of ways to promote a clearinghouse and to recognize individuals who have contributed to the pro bono community without sacrificing your budget: thank you letters, thank you or service recognition certificates, and in-house breakfasts/lunches/cocktail hours. The following sections highlight some of the additional, larger-scale events that a clearinghouse could also organize when budget permits.

Pro Bono Awards and Dinners

Pro bono awards are an important way to ensure public recognition to those who have made an outstanding contribution to the pro bono community. Strategically, a pro bono award serves several purposes. First, it gives the clearinghouse an opportunity to thank the lawyers that who have donated their time, money and efforts to pro bono practice. Second, with “official” pro bono recognition by a member of the pro bono community, the clearinghouse, lawyers are given added prestige and can more positively market themselves in the legal community. As a result, these lawyers may be better able to assist the clearinghouse and take on additional pro bono matters in the future. Finally, this kind of event also serves to promote the activities of the clearinghouse generally.

If you decide to hold a pro bono award ceremony, you will need to make several key decisions, regarding the following:

  • General eligibility—Decide what activities are eligible for the award. Generally, some form of pro bono service, support to organizations which provide pro bono services, and/or other achievements related to pro bono should suffice.
  • Nomination criteria—decide the criteria for who can be nominated. For example, can the candidates be individual lawyers, law firms, law students, NGOs or all of the above? Will multiple nominations be required, etc.?

Each year PILnet bestows two awards to recognize outstanding pro bono contributions in Europe. The award for Exemplary Partnership in the Public Interest recognizes the best pro bono legal project, or projects, undertaken as a collaboration between an NGO and a law firm. The award for Extraordinary Contribution to the Development of Pro Bono Culture is given to an emblematic and leading figure of the development of pro bono in a European country, and who has helped PILnet advance its pro bono efforts in Europe.

In Poland, only individual lawyers are eligible for nomination for the Konkurs Prawnick Pro Bono Roku, the annual Pro Bono Lawyer Contest.

In the United States, there are many awards and each have their own criteria. Law firms, law schools, law students and individual lawyers, both in private and government practice, can receive a pro bono award, of which there are many.

  • Nomination logistics—Decide how the nominations will be submitted—via the Internet, mail, etc.; who can make the nominations; and who will judge the nominees.

In Poland, the jury consists of a Polish ombudsman, president of the Constitutional Tribunal, president of the Supreme Administrative Court, president of the National Council of Legal Advisers, president of the Bar Council and lawyers previously awarded in the contest.

In Russia, the Corporate Lawyer best law firm award for contribution to pro bono development is judged by an expert council, consisting of prominent lawyers and other respected professionals. Individuals include members of the State Duma, the Department of the Federal Ombudsman’s Office, the Federal Bar Chamber, the Moscow State Legal Academy, the Russian office of the International Center for Non-profit Law, Corporate Lawyer and a representative from PILnet.

  • Unordered List ItemPromotional campaign—a clearinghouse may wish to draw the media’s attention to the pro bono awards to highlight to the general public the volunteer commitment of the legal community.
    • Consider organizing a relationship-building meeting for local journalists. During this event, highlight the success stories of the pro bono program and present them with the aims and potential impact of the award on the legal profession and benefits to the community at large.

In Poland, the leading Polish newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, is a co-organizer of the pro bono competition.

In Russia, PILnet-Moscow’s Clearinghouse co-organizes an annual Pro Bono Award with the Corporate Lawyer, a publication awarding law firms for their contributions in various areas.

  • Awards ceremony—decide the manner in which the recipients will receive the pro bono award. It could vary from a simple ceremony to a gala dinner. A decision will also need to be made regarding the form of the actual pro bono award: certificate or diploma, plaques, crystal bowls, statuettes, etc. The award should not come in a monetary form because the entire point of pro bono is to do the work without monetary compensation.

Other important considerations to keep in mind when preparing for a gala dinner include:

  • Budget—Will this fit into the clearinghouse budget? Can you secure donations and sponsorships to fund the event?
  • Time—Will the planning of this event consume too much time of an already over-stretched staff?
  • Support—Get as many members of the pro bono community involved: NGOs, law firms, bar associations, human rights organizations.
  • Press—Be sure to advertise your event! Distribute press releases before and after the event.
  • Promote—Be sure to promote the clearinghouse by distributing flyers and brochures at the event; this could spark interest from potential donors as well as with lawyers who want to develop a pro bono practice.
  • Thank you—Send thank you letters to all sponsors, donators, volunteers and other contributors to the event.

Conferences, Roundtables and Training

Conferences, forums, roundtables and training are other ways to reach out to the pro bono community and publicize a clearinghouse. These events may be more appropriate to hold after the clearinghouse is well established. However, if a clearinghouse has the means, these events can be quite worthwhile to run earlier in the organization’s life. Events include:

  • lectures and workshops on various topics concerning non-profit organizations held by expert lawyers;
  • roundtables with foreign pro bono experts, which provide an opportunity for discussion and networking among lawyers and NGO representatives;
  • legal training for NGO capacity building; and
  • conferences and forums on pro bono practice with domestic and international law firms and
  • NGOs.
PILnet organizes and hosts an annual European Pro Bono Forum. This forum is Europe's biggest event dedicated to providing local, international and comparative perspectives on pro bono practice in Europe. The Forum brings together hundreds of participants from all over the world–law firm lawyers, corporate counsel, individual practitioners, bar association representatives, NGO representatives, academics and students–all seeking to develop innovative partnerships between the legal community and the non-profit sector. See the Forum website for details of this year's event:
PBA organizes roundtables for lawyers and NGO representatives on a regular basis. The purpose of these events is to strengthen local support of this pro bono initiative. The roundtables serve as an opportunity for participants to review the current situation and raise potential risks and problems. The clearinghouse regularly invites foreign experts from countries with developed pro bono practices to encourage local law firms to participate in pro bono projects. The presentations and the discussion about possible ways to implement these models in the local environment bring new and fresh ideas to the country. The clearinghouse uses these events to bring interested NGO representatives and lawyers together equally, through both formal discussions and informal networking. Usually, there is the opportunity for short speeches on different aspects of pro bono. Bar officials, law firm representatives and NGOs can explain their interest and motivation to do pro bono. The Czech clearinghouse combines these events with informal receptions at which awards are presented to participating attorneys. See Appendix 19, Pro Bono in the Czech Republic—Roundtable for Attorneys and NGO Lawyers for details of the event. Additionally, PBA sponsors other events for the Pro Bono Community throughout the year.

In 2009, PILnet-Moscow’s Clearinghouse and the charity fund United Way implemented a project to enhance the capacity of Russian NGOs by providing them with legal training on corporate governance and compliance with Russian legislation. The project involved ten training sessions for NGOs on the most challenging issues of the daily operations of NGOs, including:

  • registration of non-profit organizations;
  • acquiring special licenses;
  • procedures for amending the charter and related documents;
  • general issues of NGO taxation;
  • taxation related to charitable contributions and donations;
  • government control of non-profit organizations;
  • registration and operation of endowment foundations;
  • application of the simplified tax system;
  • legal status of branches of foreign non-profit organizations;
  • labor issues of non-profit organizations; and
  • other topics as suggested by participants.

The training was led by lawyers from international law firms, government agencies, non-profit centers, and PILnet. For NGOs that were unable to attend, training materials were emailed to the “remote participants.” All NGOs that participated in the trainings received information about the services of PILnet-Moscow’s Clearinghouse and as a result of the training, twenty new pro bono matters were generated. Finally, after the training sessions were completed, PILnet-Moscow’s Clearinghouse and United Way distributed a questionnaire to all participants, asking that participants rate their satisfaction with the training and suggest topics for future training.

Marketing Materials: Brochures, Leaflets and Newsletters

An organization’s marketing materials are a good way to reach all target groups of a clearinghouse. They inform those interested in pro bono work about the general operations of the clearinghouse, as well as keep people up-to-date about recent news in the field and upcoming events.

An information brochure or leaflet about the clearinghouse is a great way for a clearinghouse to introduce and promote itself. Brochures about specific areas of law are another way to reach out to the pro bono community. A short and concise brochure can address the basic needs of a defined group of people. For instance, a brochure on the basics of labor law could explain the right to employment for a disadvantaged or minority group. Develop relationships with lawyers who have expertise on specific areas of law and work with them to translate their knowledge into a brochure.

As already mentioned, a newsletter can provide the same types of information as a brochure or leaflet, but can go into more detail and perhaps reach a larger audience. A newsletter can provide basic information about the clearinghouse, upcoming events and can also contain small articles about the accomplishments of the clearinghouse. It may also be expanded to include other issues, like sharing experiences between clearinghouses, law firms and NGOs, the most discussed matters in pro bono, etc.

Warning: Ethical and Professional Limitations to Publicity

Promoting the activities of the clearinghouse is clearly one way to encourage a positive pro bono sentiment and attract pro bono clients and lawyers. However, a clearinghouse should carefully consider which NGOs and which matters it wants to publicize in the media. As a general principle, legal services provided by lawyers are confidential in nature. As a result, consent must be given by the client, as they may not want certain issues and matters brought into the public sphere. The nature of a pro bono request may damage the public image of an NGO client. For example, matters dealing with internal conflict of management, tax problems of the organization, or any socially controversial topics could harm the reputation and image of the NGO. Additionally, the lawyers representing these matters may have reservations about the publication of certain details about the matter. The clearinghouse always has to be aware of these potential issues when it considers announcing matters in the media. The primary goal of the clearinghouse is the facilitation of free legal services. Promoting such matters, though helpful to the clearinghouse, is merely secondary. Finally, the clearinghouse itself should be careful about publicizing matters involving controversial NGOs and/or controversial matters, as it could cause unnecessary damage to the public image of the clearinghouse. Choose what you present to the media carefully.

publicity_for_pro_bono_activities.txt · Last modified: 2013/10/17 09:53 by marieanne_mckeown