Realizing the Pro Bono Potential of the “Third Flank”: Suggestions for What Every Lawyer Who Cares about A2J Can Do (Right Now)

Realizing the Pro Bono Potential of the “Third Flank”: Suggestions for What Every Lawyer Who Cares about A2J Can Do (Right Now)

Last week’s blog “’Lawyers do more pro bono work than any other profession”: Why Pro Bono Will Not and Can Not Save Us from the A2J Crisis” sparked some interesting reactions and afforded me some useful insights.

One was that the profession really does operate in a series of parallel universes when it comes to pro bonowork. There is a big difference between the daily reality of lawyers who offer services pro bono (usually as volunteers in pro bono programs), and those who do not. Those lawyers who are actually involved in either managing or delivering pro bono services may be somewhat more skeptical than their colleagues about the pervasiveness of a public service mentality in the legal profession.

My sense however from talking with lawyers across the country is that the assertion (“(L)awyers do morepro bono work than any other profession”) of an innate pro bono culture has widespread currency in the private Bar. It reinforces an alarming naivety in some quarters that pro bono (offered by someone other than themselves) along with some enhancement in public legal services, can fill the void and meet the needs of the “deserving” public.

Let’s call these two groups The Doers and The Defenders.

Let me be the first to admit – before someone points it out for me – that there are no clear bright lines here, and we can all think of examples of crossovers between these two groups. But broad typologies are often useful in thinking about attitudes and about change, and this one prompts the realization that there is at least a third group here. I would like to think that this group is numerically the largest of the three.

This third group comprises those lawyers who support and believe in the importance of pro bono and are aware and very concerned about the A2J crisis – but whose client base, organizational culture, current circumstances and/or area of expertise does not presently bring them into direct contact with any work or client who is being served pro bono. Let’s call this group The Third Flank.

I know you are out there – I talk to and hear from so many of you, every week, in different parts of the country.

So, in the interests of both broadening our conception of pro bono services and  galvinizing the potential of the Third Flank, the water cooler blog this week offers the three practical suggestions for small but important modifications you might consider making in your own legal practice if you care about A2J.

Each is based on stories I have been told recently by lawyers, clients and SRLs.

  1. Set aside 30-60 minutes of pro bono service per week, per client (or perhaps designate a particular client group).  Suggest that this time could be used for short questions that will receive short answers, and can be taken up further then if necessary at your billable rate. That way, your clients get some control over about how you might help them – and those who would not otherwise make that call or ask that question because of fears about costs can still have some help, rather than none.
  2. When after a summary consultation with a potential client you determine that you cannot take on a case because s/he cannot afford the costs, consider providing a summary document from the consultation, at no additional cost. The client can take that document wherever she goes, including to court on her own.
  3. If you have a client who reaches the point that they cannot afford to continue with your services but their matter is not yet resolved, ask your office manager or assistant to provide them with a well organized file of their documents and materials to take with them, at no additional cost.

Thoughts, comments, reflections on these ideas?

Other ideas to open up the potential of the Third Flank?

“Pro bono cannot save us” – because structural problems require structural solutions. But can the development of a Third Flank of private service providers willing to experiment with ideas like these begin to change the culture of private legal services?

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