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Pro bono isn’t just being employed to resolve legal disputes for those with limited financial resources. Today, pro bono has entered the world of problem solving.

“We are beginning to see pro bono really trying to close the gap,” between those with access to the legal system and those without, says Esther Lardent, executive director of the Pro Bono Institute (PBI) in Washington, DC. “Pro bono is maturing to the point that it is not only addressing individual legal problems but also fixing what’s wrong with the legal system,” she says.

From her perch as Chief Advocate for pro bono, Lardent says she sees an increase in collaborative pro bono efforts between law schools, law firms, courts and professionals outside the legal system.

Combining Resources

Kevin Curnin, a partner with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, LLC who also heads the firm’s Public Service Project, agrees with Lardent’s assessment.

“Many firms are looking for ways to combine pro bono legal relief with other professional services to deliver more comprehensive help,” says Curnin, who is based at the firm’s Manhattan office. The full-service law firm employs 300 attorneys nationwide, with offices in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

The trend towards addressing the root of a person’s legal woes, rather than tackling any one particular issue, might be humbling for the legal profession. “There is a growing acceptance that while lawyers might be able to resolve a client’s legal woes, the root causes of their difficulties might remain,” Curnin says. “We are collectively trying to address that.”

For example, if a pro bono client is having issues with a landlord, and the root of the problem is the client’s poor financial literacy, a Stroock lawyer might seek not to only to resolve the dispute but also to pair the client with a financial consultant. “More collaborative solutions might increase the odds we make permanent change,” Curnin says.

“It’s very exciting because it offers the possibility that pro bono will impact the overall legal system,” says Lardent.

Other Trends

Another change in the world of pro bono is the increasing number of in-house legal departments offering their services to the less fortunate, Lardent says. In 2000, only three corporate law departments offered their time and expertise pro bono; today there are over 500, she says.

“Fifteen years ago, people would have said in-house [departments] can’t do pro bono, but you can,” Lardent says.

Pro bono is also going global. As the number of American law firms opening offices in foreign countries increases, so too does pro bono expand into those nations. Moreover, the international legal community is becoming increasingly curious and interested in offering their services pro bono as word of the benefits and successes of those efforts expands, Lardent says.

Lastly, attempts are being made to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of pro bono services, Lardent says. “Because pro bono resources are finite, we want to be certain efforts are of high quality and best utilized,” she says. To that end, the PBI is developing a voluntary self-evaluation program utilizing actual data.

Measuring quality is important to Steven Schulman, who heads the pro bono efforts at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, DC. With over 800 lawyers worldwide, that can be a daunting task so Schulman says his firm would definitely participate in the PBI evaluation program. “We want to be a part of the qualitative aspects of pro bono to track the consistency and quality of our efforts,” Schulman says.

Tami Kamin Meyer is an attorney and writer. She is licensed to practice law in Ohio, the Southern District of Ohio and the US Supreme Court. She serves as Of Counsel for the Consumer Attorneys of America, a national law firm based in Florida. Her byline has appeared in publications such as Ohio Lawyer, Ohio Lawyers Weekly, Ohio Super Lawyer, Corporate Secretary, GC Mid-Atlantic and Plaintiff Magazine. In 2007, a study guide she wrote about filing personal bankruptcy was published by Quamut, a division of Barnes and Noble

 

Last modified on Monday, 22 July 2013
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