How to Build a Pro Bono Effort From Scratch
From the Vault -- Nice Guy Robert Van Nest
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.
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.
A Visual Take on the Super Lawyers Selection Process
In the cover story of the 2007 issue of Northern California Super Lawyers Magazine, we sat down with the man who once bested Al Davis, former owner of the Raiders: business litigator Robert A. Van Nest. He shared why "world-class litigator" and "decent guy" don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts. An excerpt:
According to Van Nest, success as a trial lawyer requires three qualities: the willingness to work tremendously hard; the ability to think on your feet; and the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.
"Trials happen quickly," he says. "You have to be able to immediately grasp the implications of what happens in court and respond to it. The best way to do that is prepare in advance. ... In any trial, just a few factors decide the outcome. You have to be able to distinguish what matters from what doesn't."
Just as important, he says, is a developed focus that enables you to zero in on the key elements and not be distracted by irrelevancies.
As he puts it, "In any trial, just a few factors decide the outcome. You have to be able to distinguish what matters from what doesn't." That became particularly important in the suit against Al Davis, the majority owner of the Oakland Raiders. In 2005 Van Nest and Stacey Wexler, a partner in the firm, won what one news report termed a "rare legal victory" against Davis, whose aggressive, even bombastic, response to any attempt to thwart his will tends to steamroll opponents. The claim was for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Van Nest and Wexler represented the heirs to the football team's founders, who claimed the contract Davis signed entitled them to recognition as limited partners in the franchise and gave them a right to examine the books.
The suit generated heated and sensationalized media coverage, fueled by rehashes of past controversies involving Davis, various local governments and the Raiders' fan base. It was, in short, a media circus. But the Keker & Van Nest partners prevailed by resolutely keeping the proceedings focused on the terms of the contract rather than on motives, feuds and personalities.
Read the rest of the full feature article on SuperLawyers.com. And be sure to check out the most recent issue of Northern California Super Lawyers Magazine here.
At Super Lawyers we've heard it all before....."How many people did she have to petition to be selected?" or even "His advertising dollars got him in the magazine." But see for yourself below and separate fact from fiction.
We take pride in our patented selection process, which produces a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for referring attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel. Super Lawyers is also part of Thomson Reuters, which has a rich history in the legal world spanning more than 140 years.
Our selected attorneys are the best of the best. From honors and awards to transactions to pro bono work, our research department evaluates each lawyer in the candidate pool based on the 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. And don't forget a representative number of small, medium and large firm attorneys are selected. At the end of the day, five percent of attorneys are selected to the Super Lawyers list with another 2.5 percent selected to the Rising Stars list in each state.
Jason Paul Beaulieu, Founding Partner at Timmerman, Beaulieu, Hinkle & Esworthy, LLC shares with us his thoughts on the rigouressness on our selection process. "The credibility obtained by the peer-driven selection to a Super Lawyers list has greatly enhanced our marketing efforts and resulted in new clients. It also tends to reassure existing clients that they have made a good decision."
For more information on the selection process or to get involved visit our selection process page.