Solving the Pro Bono Mismatch
47 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2019 Last revised: 26 Dec 2020
Date Written: April 3, 2020
The pro bono interests of law firm lawyers tend to differ from the actual legal needs of the poor. This difference results in the mismatch problem or the incongruence between the interests of firm lawyers and the needs of the poor. Today, the mismatch problem has resulted in law firm lawyers' increased demand of immigration matters while legal needs are greatest in housing and family law. This leaves nonprofit legal services organizations scrambling to find pro bono representation for poor clients or otherwise relying on very limited resources to represent poor clients. The literature on the mismatch problem is lacking in important ways. First, there is a lack of understanding about how the interests of individual lawyers factor into the selection of pro bono matters. Second, there is no understanding about how law firm culture impacts the choice of pro bono work for firms and individual lawyers. Third, the literature does not include how the political climate impacts the choice of pro bono work within firms. Finally, the literature is devoid of normative suggestions to remedy the problem. Through an interview-based empirical exploration, this research explains how individual lawyers impact the choice of pro bono work, how law firm culture impacts pro bono choices, and how the political climate directly shapes what lawyers choose to do for pro bono legal representation.
To solve the pro bono mismatch, I make three proposals: (1) modification of the language of the American Bar Association's Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, which provides that lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal services; (2) creation and implementation of macro-level "pay for preference;" and (3) creation and implementation of micro-level 'ay for preference" regimes in law firms to nudge lawyers to consider the greatest legal needs in their choices of pro bono legal representation.
Keywords: legal services, law firms, nonprofit legal services organizations, pro bono
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