'We're Not Running a Charity Here:' Rethinking Public Interest Lawyers’ Relationships with Bottom-Line-Driven Pro Bono Programs
Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law
Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, Vol. 29, p. 37, 2011
Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-08
This article explores the relationship between public interest lawyers and large firm pro bono programs. The article posits that large firms are mainly motivated to engage in pro bono for business reasons, and that the result of these so-called “bottom-line” motivations are pro bono programs that actually harm the public interest agencies with which they partner.
While some scholars have examined firms’ business-centric motivations for engaging in pro bono work, this article advances the discussion by examining how those bottom-line motivations negatively affect the public interest agencies whose participation in the pro bono system is so critical to its functioning. The article identifies three ways in which firms’ business motivations for engaging in pro bono work negatively affect the public interest agencies with which they partner; specifically: 1) corruption of public interest agencies’ triage priorities; 2) the creation of case management problems at the public interest agency; and 3) the creation of efficiency drags on the public interest program that are not always offset by increased volume of clients served. The article uses anecdotes from the author’s practice as well as an examination of the “deferred associate” phenomenon to illustrate how firms’ business motivations lead to the identified problems.
The Article then makes recommendations for how public interest agencies can minimize the negative effects of interaction with bottom-line-motivated pro bono programs. Finally, this article makes two tentative recommendations for how public interest agencies can offset the harms caused by bottom-line-motivated pro bono programs. It suggests that, in order to make triage priorities clearer and more central to pro bono work, public interest agencies request that pro bono partners fund needs assessments and respect their findings. It also suggests that public interest agencies may simply wish to demand direct donations by pro bono partners in order to offset the hidden costs of pro bono relationships.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 49
Keywords: pro bono, public interest, professional responsibility, triage, positional conflicts, legal ethics
JEL Classification: K40
Date posted: October 7, 2011 ; Last revised: February 28, 2012
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