Pro Bono Myths and Realities: Bar Associations, Foundations, Access to Justice Commissions, and Other Systemic Players

By Bob Glaves | CBF Executive Director

As we reach the end of this year’s Pro Bono Week, it is time to look in the mirror at ourselves and our colleagues in the bar/funder/access to justice commission world as the last key pro bono stakeholder to discuss this week. While each of the other key players discussed earlier in this week’s series lawyers, firms and law departments; legal aid organizations; government; and the courts have distinct roles to play in the pro bono landscape, none of them operate in a vacuum. Bar associations, funders, commissions and other systemic players are well-positioned to make all of the other key stakeholders more efficient and effective when we do our jobs well.

In carrying out our systemic responsibilities, there are several key things those of us with this vantage point can do to make pro bono the best it can be.

Communication and Expectations

First and foremost, we need to use our bully pulpits to communicate responsibly about pro bono, encouraging attorneys to get involved while also recognizing the proper role of pro bono in the larger access to justice landscape. As I’ve noted throughout this week, pro bono is just one part of a larger, integrated solution to ensuring equal access to justice. As a legal community we need to be clear that government bears the primary responsibility for ensuring we have a fair and accessible justice system for everyone, and we need to understand that our professional responsibility requires us to contribute our time, our money and our influence to advance this common cause.

We also need to be clear in our communications and actions that pro bono does not exist in a vacuum. With very rare exceptions, pro bono requires a team effort among the stakeholders and proper funding and support to be successful. Properly setting that tone in our communications, policies and actions is a critical part of our role.

Education, Resources and Best Practices

Along with consistent communication, we are uniquely positioned to provide training and resources to all of the various stakeholders and promote best practices through those means, using the principles discussed in my earlier posts this week for each of the key stakeholders. There are many great resources and examples of successful programs here in Illinois and throughout the country, and regularly updating and reinforcing these resources and best practices for all of the key players helps everyone to succeed without having to reinvent the wheel every time.

Funding and Support

Good pro bono programs require the appropriate investment of staff and resources to succeed. Bar foundations, IOLTA programs and other funders should provide that funding as a key part of our larger funding for legal aid and access to justice work, and promote best practices for successful programs as part of that funding.

Rules and Policies

One other key role for us as systemic players is to regularly assess the regulatory landscape for the profession and advocate as necessary to ensure that it is most conducive to promoting pro bono in a responsible way. Examples include mandatory pro bono reporting rules and rules allowing law students or retired, inactive or limited license lawyers to participate in pro bono. The ABA Center for Pro Bono is a great national resource for rules and policies around pro bono.

Read more in the Pro Bono Myths and Realities series

Part 1  Pro Bono: Myths, Realities, and Its Proper Role in Access to Justice

Part 2  Lawyers, Law Firms and Corporate Legal Departments

Part 3  Legal Aid Organizations

Part 4  The Role of Government

Part 5  The Role of the Courts

Part 6  Bar Associations, Foundations, Access to Justice Commissions, and Other Systemic Players

Part 7  Final Thoughts