How to Build a Pro Bono Effort From Scratch

In the past two posts (here and here), we've talked about the pros and cons of pro bono. The newest Super Lawyers Playbook, Doing Good While Doing Well: A Road Map to Success with Pro Bono, shows that the pros outweigh the cons-if you manage your practice right.

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That management begins when you embark on pro bono work for the first time. There are countless good causes and organizations to support. Where do you start?

The best place to start is with motivation. If you have a solo practice, what causes are closest to your heart? If you run or are a part of a larger firm, then ask that question of the attorneys who might be the best candidates for performing pro bono work. What issues are they most passionate about? What causes get you really geared up in the morning or keep you up at night?

There's no shortage of people, organizations and causes needing legal help these days. Case in point: Both legal-aid services and the court system rely heavily on volunteer lawyers to help meet the needs of underprivileged clients. But while many folks qualify for legal aid, funding for the program remains tight.

Since the need for pro bono attorneys is so great, it can be tempting to take on a lot of work. But giving into that temptation can derail your good intentions.

Steve Marchese has been there. As pro bono director at the Minnesota State Bar Association. this former business litigator knows that it's easy to get overwhelmed by the options. "With the inherent need for this type of work, I at times see endeavors sort of self-destruct, because firms try to help too many," Marchese says. "When starting out, I think it's prudent to select one effort or organization to build a sense of commonality within the firm."

So it's crucial that you focus on just one or two causes, at least at first. Serving a well-chosen cause can do real, sustainable good for both the beneficiaries and the firm.

Among other benefits, pro bono work gives attorneys a golden chance to build esprit de corps. It provides plenty of opportunities for collaboration and sharing knowledge, assets that the firm can build upon, going forward. Staffing pro bono projects with a well-chosen mix of veteran and newer attorneys can promote collegiality. This also allows those newer attorneys to develop their client relations, file management and oral advocacy skills under the guidance of experienced mentors.

Dedicating additional resources to volunteer legal work may seem daunting. But putting a plan in place built on the motivations of you or your firm's attorneys can make that easier-and be a big help to those who need it.

Convinced? You can dive deeper into the subject by downloading the new Super Lawyers Playbook on pro bono best practices. Done right, there's a great deal of good you can do. The new playbook can show you the best practices for your practice's good works.