Here at the Rothgerber Symposium in Denver, Jim Greiner of Harvard, has made an interesting suggestion about pro bono. He has suggested that larger firms, rather than just working to maximize pro bono hours, should specialize in certain pro bono substantive areas, making sure that the representation is of the highest quality, and has the greatest impact.
There are several obvious arguments in favor of such an approach. One is the emerging evidence that just providing representation is not necessarily enough.
Another is the argument that specialization would be consistent with the firms’ commitment to uniqueness and quality in their market-based practice. (Maybe some firms would worry about being identified with certain types of issues or clients.)
Such a role for pro bono firms might help fill the still existing gap in the delivery system created by the defunding of the old legal services back-up centers, with the firms taking on leadership in creation of briefbanks, model pleadings, networking, advocacy theorizing, etc.
Note moreover, that this idea might be considered as part of the process of reconsidering pro bono that is taking place.
Update: Esther Lardent Comments:
We developed the concept of “signature projects” for law firms more than a decade ago and have worked with countless large firms to develop, implement, and enhance these projects. I’ve attached “Ten Elements of Signature Projects” as an example of what we have done to introduce the concept which is quite widespread among firms. Also, I do not believe that it is feasible for larger firms to focus on only one area of law – attorney interest, local needs and availability of pro bono work, among other factors – make that approach far too limiting, but what we do encourage is firms going deep in one or two areas on a firm wide basis to develop expertise and secure better and systemic solutions.
Here is an extract from the article linked to above:
Benefits to law firms and legal departments
*Experience to date indicates that signature projects
generate substantially higher pro bono hours/percentages;
*They also typically result in broader pro bono partici- pation, particularly among harder-to-recruit lawyers, such as partners and transactional lawyers;
*They promote teamwork, across practice groups, levels of seniority and among offices;
*They increase the visibility of pro bono within the firm or department;
*They enhance morale and esprit de corps;
*They can be the source of wonderful publicity and media coverage;
*They offer an efficient vehicle for firms/departments to acquire pro bono expertise;
*They permit law firms/legal departments to more easily and effectively assess the impact of their pro bono work and the difference that work has made;
*They are highly attractive to legal departments and can form the basis of effective partnerships between law firms and these departments;
*For legal departments, signature projects that add a legal dimension to an already existing company charitable/ voluntarism focus permit greater interaction with other company leaders that demonstrates the added value of legal work;
Thanks to Esther Lardent.