Commitment to Pro Bono
Choosing a Law Firm: Critically Evaluating Pro Bono Policies and Programs
Pro Bono Resources
NALP Workplace Questionnaires completed by employers and available at www.nalpdirectory.com via each employer's individual NALP form.
The Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs provides “the scoop” on close to 100 large law firms. Topics include leadership and structure, participation, evaluation, and compensation and management. Read the How to Use this Guide section of the introduction to obtain useful suggestions on questions to pose at interviews. Available in the Career Services Office.
ABA Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge which lists those firms who have agreed to commit either 3% or 5% of their firm's total billable hours to pro bono work. List is available via the Law Firm Pro Bono Project web site at www.probonoinst.org.
Law firm descriptions of their pro bono work available on firm web sites.
The Path to Pro Bono: An Interviewing Tool for Law Students from the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and Center for Pro Bono.
Tips for Evaluating a Law Firm's Commitment to Pro Bono Work
- Look at the breadth of the firm's work.
Look at the number of lawyers doing pro bono and the number of hours per lawyer.
- Focus on the partner involvement.
If partners are not committed to the work, they won't be happy about associates working on pro bono matters over paying client matters.
- Externship Opportunities
Don't place too much importance on them. They are good opportunities for a few attorneys at the firm, but if that's all the firm offers, it's not enough.
- Look at the firm's description.
Is it specific or general? Does it look like a marketing piece or is it substantive?
- Do pro bono hours count as billable hours?
Do they count towards the firm's minimal billable hours goal? If there are different salary tracks for different hour commitments at the firm, do pro bono hours count towards that commitment? Does the firm have a bonus system that is tied to hours? Do pro bono hours count towards that? Are pro bono cases really treated the same as other cases when assigning work?
- What are the types of pro bono work the firm has been involved in this year?
Ask this at an interview to find out how familiar attorneys are with pro bono cases. You will also learn the substance of the work being performed.
- Ask the interviewer if he/she has the chance to do much pro bono work.
The interviewer should be able to speak intelligently and knowledgeably about the pro bono work of the firm generally and about his/her own pro bono efforts.
- How does the firm get its pro bono work?
If the response is that you can do anything that you want, that may translate to “you're on your own to find the work,” which isn't easy to do.
- Ask who runs the pro bono program.
Most firms serious about pro bono will have a pro bono coordinator or partner. Ask to talk to that person.
- Many firms' pro bono programs focus on certain types of cases.
Be sure the firm is willing to allow you to do the type of pro bono work that interests you.
- Does the firm have a written pro bono policy?
Ask for it.
- Ask at the interview “Why did you come to this firm?” and “What is distinctive about this firm?”
If no one mentions pro bono, you have to wonder about the firm's commitment.
- How does pro bono factor into compensation, performance reviews and partnership decisions?
Will your pro bono accomplishments be taken into account at review time? Are partners supervising your pro bono work expected to evaluate you in a similar manner as partners with whom you work on cases for paying clients?
- What resources are made available to attorneys who perform pro bono work?
Is training available? Are support staff permitted to work on pro bono cases?
Thank you to Yale Law School’s Career Development Office for their help in creating this page.