Pro bono programs help students develop professionalism and an understanding of a lawyer's responsibility to the community.
Participation facilitates student involvement in the community and increases the availability of legal services to needy populations.
Students also benefit by increasing their knowledge and marketability, gaining practical experience, developing skills, enhancing their reputations and exploring alternative career opportunities.
Principal benefits that can derive from a pro bono program.
Helps Fill Gaps in the Availability of Legal Representation
A well-organized pro bono program can enhance lawyers’ ability to fill the gaps between the legal needs of the most disadvantaged in society and their ability to find counsel. It can also enhance lawyers’ ability to fill in other gaps, such as when nonprofits or public interest law groups cannot afford counsel, and need legal help to handle matters effectively on behalf of public interest litigants.
Attorney Training - Pro bono practice represents a way in which a junior attorney can enhance skills and help build a professional network. New attorneys generally fill secondary roles in their firms’ litigation or transactional practice. Pro bono work enables new associates to draft court filings, or contracts, prepare legal arguments, and appear in administrative or court hearings.
Additionally, pro bono attorneys frequently develop communication, deliberation, and negotiation skills. Matters can provide an opportunity for direct client contact or close interaction with adversaries, court officials, and other attorneys. Pro bono work generally gives attorneys more responsibility and prepares them for the tough decision-making they will encounter throughout their careers. In summary, pro bono work is an effective way for young attorneys to accelerate their development from law school graduates to skilled attorneys.
Recruitment and Retention of Attorneys
Another benefit that pro bono work offers firms is in recruiting new attorneys and retaining existing attorneys.
Finding and retaining qualified attorneys can be difficult in a competitive legal market. A strong institutionalized pro bono practice can help distinguish a law firm from its competitors. Experience has shown that more junior lawyers tend to be more willing to devote greater portions of their time to pro bono legal work than more experienced lawyers, and accordingly, many of the highest quality young attorneys prefer working at law firms where they will be able to do fulfilling pro bono work. Moreover, many young attorneys equate the quality of a firm’s pro bono practice with its overall merit and values.
An effective pro bono program can materially help in a firm’s retaining of valued attorneys. Pro bono practice presents an attractive alternative to billable casework and can produce a sense of accomplishment (both for the public good and for one’s professional development) that associates may not find in much of their first few years of work for commercial clients. Participation in a well-organized pro bono program tends to improve morale while generating a sense of pride and loyalty in one’s firm. This benefit typically extends well beyond junior associates to more senior attorneys and support staff.
Marketing and Publicity regarding the Pro Bono Program
Pro Bono garners publicity.
Firms can include references to their pro bono programs on their websites or in newsletters sent to clients. The pro bono chair and the firm’s marketing group should consider how best to market externally the firm’s pro bono program. A firm’s pro bono partnerships with recognizable institutions, its providing pro bono services in important matters of public interest, and its receipt of pro bono awards or positive media recognition can help attract new clients. The firm thus can distinguish itself from competitors. Overall, successfully run and appropriately publicized pro bono programs can improve a firm’s image in the community, media, and government, as well as among its current and prospective clients and its current and prospective attorneys and support staff.
Media publicity can also benefit society by informing and awakening the public’s consciousness about the public interest, and in particular instances of injustice, social need, or areas of the legal system requiring reform. This can improve the image of attorneys in the community and lead to changes that enhance trust in the legal system overall.
It is important to note, however, that firms should research local law before publicizing their pro bono services. Certain types of publicity may be restricted or limited by law or bar associations.
Aside from publicity per se, lawyers may, on the basis of their pro bono work and because they did the work without pay, have particular credibility in advocating legal reforms.
Building Relationships with Members of the Legal Community
Pro bono engagement can help law firms build relationships with other firms around the world through collaboration on multi-jurisdictional projects.