Recruiting Volunteer Attorneys

Recruiting Volunteer Attorneys

How can judges recruit pro bono attorneys?

Judges are especially well-suited for direct recruitment of pro bono program volunteers. In many jurisdictions, judges sign letters urging members of the bar to join a program. This is a particularly effective strategy for increasing the numbers of pro bono program volunteers.

The 2009 ABA study of pro bono found that "encouraged by a judge" was among the top three incentives for attorneys to do pro bono representation (Supporting Justice II: A Report on the Pro bono Work of America's Lawyers, The ABA Standing Committee on Pro bono and Public Service, February 2009).

Examples of recruitment activities are:

  • Sending periodic reminders to encourage attorneys to participate in volunteer attorney panels.

  • Writing editorials, opinion pieces or articles for newspapers, magazines or bar publications about the need for volunteer attorneys and about the aspirational standard of ABA Model Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

  • Making presentations about the need for volunteers when speaking at various events, including swearing-in ceremonies and bar association annual meetings;

  • Assisting in the recruitment of law firms, corporate law departments or government law offices by making individual presentations to them.

  • Collaborating with the local bar association for annual recruitment events.

  • Encouraging the heads of local government attorney offices, such as the prosecuting attorney's and county or agency counsel's offices, to promote pro bono service among their staff attorneys. There are ways for government attorneys to contribute pro bono services without creating potential conflicts of interest.

  • Encouraging firms to create pro bono teams, in which several firm attorneys take on a pro bono project together.

  • Encouraging corporate counsel to do pro bono representation. Inform them of the new limited scope representation rules and how they make if easier for corporate attorneys to do pro bono. Also inform them of the free malpractice coverage provided by the state.

  • Court employees: "Finally, courts can set an example for the bar by encouraging their own lawyer-employees to do pro bono work. These lawyers are subject to the rules of professional responsibility where they are admitted to practice, and they should have the opportunity to engage in pro bono and public service work. Lawyers who are court employees engage in a wide range of pro bono work, including estate planning, benefit counseling, landlord-tenant disputes, and debtor-creditor issues. Naturally, such matters should be carefully screened to ensure that the lawyer's pro bono work does not create conflicts of interest" (ABA Resolution 121C, p. 5). For court employee conduct practices in other states, see ABA Pro bono Center - Judicial Promotion of Pro bono. Also see Nebraska Judicial Ethics Opinion 08-2. Contra see Texas Ethics Opinion 283. Review your employee policies. Are they consistent with ethical requirements yet friendly to pro bono work?

Further see, Expanding Pro Bono: The Judiciary's Power to Open Doors (ABA Dialogue, Spring 1998), p.3.

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