Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Pro Bono’s Culture of Cooperation and Collaboration

May 2020 Bar Bulletin

By Rachel Brown

Fulfilling the ethical responsibility to help those who need pro bono service is rarely a solo act. In fact, a consortium of dedicated players usually comes together to make it all work, each fulfilling an important role. Law firms and companies encourage and support pro bono service; legal assistants and staff provide invaluable administrative help; bar associations and volunteer legal service organizations offer pro bono opportunities and training; and corporate partners work collaboratively with private law firms on cases and causes that impact entire constituencies. Pro bono not only provides access to justice to those who need it the most, but it also makes us stronger lawyers, collaborators, and supporters of the access to justice movement. 

Understanding what pro bono opportunities are available is the first step in joining this movement and benefiting from the gift of giving back. Many lawyers connect with their pro bono clients through Qualified Legal Service Providers (QLSPs), nonprofit legal service organizations dedicated to serving low income individuals who need but cannot afford legal assistance. But QLSPs do far more than provide pro bono opportunities to lawyers. These important organizations screen prospective clients for eligibility in accordance with Rule 6.1 criteria,1 oftentimes provide malpractice insurance, give at least two hours of relevant training, offer mentoring and/or advice to volunteers, and provide MCLE credit for pro bono hours. In other words, QLSPs offer volunteers the benefit of their expertise as well as the framework on which to build a case on behalf of their clients. There are 20 QLSPs in King County alone.2 

Similarly, both the Washington and King County Bar Associations offer a diverse range of opportunities for interested volunteers. For instance, the KCBA’s pro bono programs provide opportunities for lawyers to volunteer with both general and specialty Neighborhood Legal Clinics, as well as with the Records Project, the Housing Justice Project, the Family Law Mentor Program, and many other initiatives. Volunteers help clients in myriad ways — from stopping evictions to vacating criminal records, and from requesting third party custody of children to helping survivors of domestic violence.3 The list of standalone volunteer legal service providers is too long to list here, but both the KCBA and WSBA4 maintain a list of pro bono opportunities on their websites. Again, these legal service organizations provide volunteer lawyers with pro bono clients, along with the framework and support to better serve them.

One such organization is the Seattle Clemency Project (SCP). Law firms from across the state take cases, and sometimes several cases, through this organization. Jennifer Smith, the co-founder and legal director of SCP, oversees volunteer training, provides all necessary materials, and is on standby to answer questions. Regardless of whether the attorney is successful in winning a recommendation for clemency, the prisoner develops a profound understanding of his case, is more in tune with the workings of the criminal justice system, and ultimately is grateful that there is a team of lawyers and staff fighting for his/her/their freedom. Working on SCP cases is usually a collegial and collective endeavor, where the team’s efforts on the client’s behalf are made greater still by everyone’s welcome and valuable contributions. 

And it’s not just private law firm attorneys doing pro bono work — it’s companies which embrace good corporate citizenship and strategic philanthropy as critical elements of their corporate culture, establish pro bono programs for the attorneys in their legal departments, and engage in joint pro bono ventures with their outside law firms.5 Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, T-Mobile, and many others take cases independently or seek out vital and effective pro bono partnerships with their outside law firms to form powerhouse teams. 

Pro bono publico cases — those undertaken “for the public good” — are meaningful and transformative not only for the clients, but also for their lawyers. In addition, joint pro bono ventures offer legal collaborators an opportunity to interact both personally and professionally, to combine skills and expertise, and to share insights and responsibilities on their client’s behalf. Most importantly, successful cooperative and collaborative relationships among practitioners commonly make them exceptionally dynamic and impactful champions for the unheard, the unseen, and the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. We give of our time and talent, but what we get in return is even greater. 

Rachel Brown, a graduate of New York University, is the Pro Bono Specialist at Davis Wright Tremaine LLC. Rachel can be reached at RachelBrown@dwt.com. 

1 Rule 6.1 of the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct governs pro bono publico service.

2 Qualified Legal Service Providers, Washington State Bar Association, https://www.wsba.org/connect-
serve/volunteer-opportunities/psp/qlsp (last accessed April 10, 2020). 

3 Pro Bono Services, King County Bar, https://www.
kcba.org/For-Lawyers/Pro-Bono-Services (last accessed April 10, 2020). 

4 Public Service and Pro Bono Opportunities, Washington State Bar Association, https://www.wsba.
org/connect-serve/volunteer-opportunities/psp (last accessed April 10, 2020).

5 See Corporate Pro Bono, http://www.cpbo.org/ (last accessed April 10, 2020).

 

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