March 24, 2009

Update: Pro Bono Opportunities

Yesterday, I wrote about a trend among law firms to put their employees, idle in the face of a recession-induced decline in business, to work for nonprofits. It seems to be a timely topic, as I've come across a few other recent articles on the topic:

Also yesterday, (where I used to serve as Corporate Philanthropy Editor), published an interview on this subject with Michael A. Rothenberg, Executive Director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. One of the concerns I highlighted in my post yesterday was that, as the economy recovers, the pro bono resources will be pulled out of nonprofits which have come to depend on them. This interview points out that a number of the attorneys who take on pro bono opportunities will be working on problems that have been created by the recession, like foreclosures. While the economic recovery may mean that pro bono programs scale back to pre-recession levels, it may also mean that the burden on public interest law organizations is decreased. This makes me feel somewhat better about the sustainability of these programs.

The onPhilanthropy article directed me to
this article published by CNN last week. The CNN article gives some good context, including more examples of firms that are encouraging new hires with deferred offers and laid-off employees to go into public service jobs for the time being; it also explains some of the economics that make paying attorneys to work for someone else attractive to law firms. The CNN article refers to students and attorneys with the same big concern that I have - that is, that students who come with a stipend from a law firm will displace those who have always intended to go into public interest law. However, it also quotes individuals that are hopeful that this situation will cause public interest law careers - not just short-term stints - to become attractive to students who might not have otherwise considered anything but corporate jobs.

AmericanLawyer.Com also took on this issue recently, in an article published on Thursday. The article focuses on the logistical challenges of managing this influx of pro bono resources, and the role that the Association of Pro Bono Counsel is playing in coordinating solutions to these challenges. The article also addressing the difficulty - and yet the importance - of matching specific lawyers with specific opportunities, to ensure that both parties truly benefit from the experience.

Have you read anything else that illuminates this subject, or that illustrates a similar situation in a different industry? If so, please post a link in the comments. Thanks!

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