In prior blog posts, I have noted that pro bono service is a law practice management issue, not so much for “Big Law” as it is for the solo or small firm lawyer.
I have been participating in many of the Transition into Law Practice Program continuing legal education seminars for new lawyers in Georgia. The Transition into Law Practice Program is a mandatory mentoring program for all newly-admitted lawyers in Georgia.
My presentations to the newly-admitted lawyers extol the benefits of pro bono service, including substantive law and client-interviewing skill development. However, the main point I like to address to new lawyers is this: To be successful as a new lawyer, you must actively manage your pro bono service. You must think strategically about pro bono.
Solo and small-firm lawyers, new and experienced alike, must preserve the financial health of their law practice. So many pro bono cases that might otherwise be accepted by small-town lawyers are turned away because solo and small-firm lawyers have limited resources.
The best solution is to increase support for lawyers from the local legal aid or pro bono program. Every small-town lawyer ought to be able to say to a potential pro bono client, “I do all my pro bono through legal aid. Go to legal aid, get screened, and if you meet the guidelines, they will send you back to my office.”
This approach achieves some economies and helps to eliminate some frustrations: The lawyer or his paralegal does not have to be the bad guy and say “no”; the lawyer does not have to spend a large amount of time on client intake because that is done by the legal aid or pro bono program; the local legal aid or pro bono program may be able to resolve the client’s issue without pro bono intervention; and the local legal aid program or pro bono program can provide other support to the lawyer should she ultimately be referred the case. Importantly, the lawyer maintains more control over her workload because she sets the number and type of pro bono cases she will accept in a calendar year.
That connection to legal aid gives the lawyer some insulation from the large number of pro bono requests she receives on a daily basis, and allows her to still engage in pro bono.
So, law practice pro bono management means you should think strategically about pro bono service. Decide how many cases you can effectively manage and fund (because you do “fund” the case). Be specific about the kinds of pro bono cases you would like to handle. Communicate your specific plan to your local legal aid or pro bono program. Ask what the local legal aid or pro bono program can do for you. For example, many offer free or reduced-cost CLE, CLE vouchers, and professional liability insurance for the pro bono cases.
I have attached a typical “Pro Bono as Law Practice Management” presentation in PDF format that I use in my presentations to the new lawyers in the mentoring program.