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Pro Bono on the Rise in Down Times

Over at JD Bliss, Steve Imparl highlights one of the silver linings in the otherwise cloudy economy: an increase in pro bono work by lawyers. According to ALB Legal News, as a result of the economic downturn, lawyers have found themselves with time on their hands and are using it to handle pro bono matters. It's not just large firms that are reporting an uptick in pro bono work, either. Organizations that train pro bono lawyers have noticed an increase in registration for training programs. For example, in October 2008, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York held a pro bono training session and 245 guests attended the program, instead of the 80 attendees that were expected. 

Many -- myself included -- expected that pro bono work would take a hit in recessionary times. Indeed, as Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute, told ALB Legal News, firms tended to discourage pro bono work during the 2001 recession. So what's different this time? As I see it, this recession is deeper and potentially more far reaching than the downturn of 2001. Firms and lawyers are beginning to realize that this time, many of the cuts firms are making will be permanent. As a result, lawyers recognize that they must develop new practical skills to position themselves to find other employment or perhaps even open their own firms. And nothing provides real hands-on experience and training better than pro bono work, where lawyers receive free training from pro bono organizations and have the protection of these organizations' malpractice providers. Moreover, participating in pro bono programs also gives lawyers an opportunity to network and make connections, since many prominent attorneys often sit on the boards of pro bono programs.

By the way, I see nothing wrong with lawyers using pro bono as a way to get to know other lawyers or obtain hands-on training that they can use in starting their own firms or in other jobs. So long as lawyers represent pro bono clients vigorously and capably, their motivation for helping doesn't much matter, in my view.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 30, 2008 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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