From the Multnomah Lawyer: Creating a Pro Bono Culture at Your Firm

There are many ways law firms can create a culture that encourages pro bono work by their lawyers. I have no secret formula for doing so. However, here are five ways that this circa 1973 lawyer recommends for your consideration.

1. Teach by Example, Not by Lectures. There is no substitute for great examples set by those in formal or informal leadership positions. In my firm, the late Don Marmaduke led the way over many decades bridging two centuries, but he was not alone.

2. Counting It Makes It Count. Figure out a way to track pro bono work that is consistent with whatever tracking systems your firm uses to track remunerative work. When evaluating partners’ and associates’ contributions to the firm, make a point of including pro bono numbers in the conversation. For example, if an associate is meeting billable guidelines but not meeting pro bono guidelines, let the associate know that the firm takes both seriously.

3. Organize the Effort and Identify People to Lead the Effort. If everyone is responsible, no one is accountable. In our firm, we have a committee and the committee has a designated chairperson. The committee includes our managing partner and our staff member who leads attorney hiring and recruitment. The message is not subtle. For other firms, designating just one person may be the best fit. Our committee reaches out to attorneys in the firm with internally-generated pro bono opportunities and requests from outside the firm. It also acts as a resource for attorneys who want to match their skill sets and passions with pro bono opportunities.

4. Recognition. Last year we instituted the Don H. Marmaduke Pro Bono Service Award. The inaugural award was presented at our annual firm retreat to Steven Wilker in recognition of the hundreds of hours he has dedicated to civil rights and civil liberties cases. We have a nomination and decision-making process that emphasizes the importance of this award to our firm, which I will be pleased to share with anyone who is interested.

5. It is Work, So Treat it That Way. Early on in my career here, the founders made it clear to me that they expected my pro bono work to be of the same quality as my work for their best paying clients, and for the pro bono clients to be treated the same way we treat paying clients.

I will end with one other lesson I learned from my firm’s founders: Pro bono work is great - when you do it intentionally!

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