By: Scott L. Cummings and Deborah L. Rohde. Published by: Fordham Law Review. Published in October 2010.
The development of large-firm pro bono programs over the past fifteen years has reflected the dual imperatives of public service and professional interests. As pro bono has become institutionalized, an increasing number of firms have demonstrated their commitment to the public interest by hiring pro bono counsel to coordinate the delivery of unpaid assistance to underrepresented constituencies. This trend has also been shaped by bottom-line considerations, including the desire to score well in external ranking schemes and to provide training for associates.
This article provides the first systematic look at the professionalization of pro bono programs in large firms and the challenges they face in the current economic climate. It draws upon a survey of large-firm pro bono counsel conducted in the summer of 2009, supplemented by data from The American Lawyer and National Association of Law Placement Employer Directory.
The study finds that pro bono programs in practice are profoundly shaped by the interests of law firm lawyers, evident in the emphasis placed on the satisfaction of lawyers rather than clients, and the focus on quantity over quality or social impact.
In addition, the study finds that pro bono participation is increasingly adapted to the economic needs of the firms through efforts to enhance training, reduce costs, and promote fee-generating work. In response to these findings, the article concludes with preliminary recommendations on how firms might enhance the quality of pro bono work – how they might do well by doing better.