Pro bono work by the nation’s major law firms is essential to closing the justice gap. If you plan to begin your legal career in the private sector and to make pro bono a part of your professional life, choose a firm with a strong pro bono culture. To evaluate the strength of a firm’s commitment to pro bono and to signal the priority that prospective associates place on pro bono (once you have an offer in hand) ask:
1. How is the firm's pro bono program structured
- Is there a full-time coordinator? (if so, ask to talk to this person)
- Is the coordinator an attorney?
- Is the coordinator a partner or are partners involved in the supervision of pro bono cases?
- How are pro bono cases brought into the firm?
- Does the firm work routinely with specific nonprofits?
- Who screens/assigns the cases?
- What types of pro bono matters does the firm accept? (impact, class actions or solely individual matters?)
- Do individual attorneys have any discretion in bringing in their own pro bono cases?
- Do attorneys in all of the firm’s offices participate?
- Does the firm provide training and supervision for pro bono matters?
- Does the firm provide support staff for pro bono cases?
2. How the firm encourages pro bono work
- Are attorneys required or encouraged to perform a minimum number of pro bono hours annually?
- Do pro bono hours count toward the firm’s billable hour requirement?
- Is there a cap on the number of pro bono hours that count as billable?
- Are pro bono hours considered as part of the bonus/promotion performance review?
- Do summer associates participate in pro bono, and, if so, are they evaluated on such work?
- Are pro bono cases treated the same as billable cases when work is distributed?
- How many of the lawyers who recently made partner did substantial pro bono work?
- How many lawyers in the firm did pro bono and how many hours per lawyer?
3. If the firm is a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge
- ABA’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge (The challenge requires the firm to commit 3-5 percent of their total billable hours to pro bono.)
- Has the firm met the Challenge in the last 2-3 years?
4. Where the firm ranks in the Am Law 100 or Am Law 200 pro bono rankings
- American Lawyer (annually ranks law firm pro bono programs)
- The Vault Guide to Law Firm Pro Bono Programs (information on the pro bono programs of the 100 largest firms)
- Has the firm recently won any pro bono awards?
5. If the firm's pro bono program is highlighted on its website or in its annual report
- Is the information provided specific and substantive or more of a general marketing piece?
- Ask for a copy of the firm's written pro bono policy.
6. If the firm sponsors public services summer internships and post-graduate fellowships
Firms Sponsoring Split Public Interest Summer Programs (Yale Law School)