Engaging Pro-Bono Lawyers

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 to Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Pro-bono lawyers provide an important service to the protect of human rights. But how do you engage them? Th tackled the issues of defining what a pro-bono lawyer is, what they do, how to develop a network of partnerships and volunteers in pro-bono work, how to train lawyers interested in pro-bono work, what issues of security existed in pro-bono work, and finally, how can pro-bono work be sustainably maintained.

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The nature of pro-bono law was initially discussed, establishing the services which pro-bono lawyers provide. A very comprehensive definition of pro-bono work indicated the importance of providing legal assistance to marginalized populations, ranging from advice to counseling, and from legal representation to education. The theme of education was identified as a core concept that is often forgotten or underestimated, and educational work taken in Peru and Thailand by two different pro-bono organizations was presented. Lastly, a serious concern regarding the safety and security of pro-bono workers, who are often identified as dissidents by government or paramilitary forces, was mentioned. An example of community support and involvement in pro-bono work was given as a possible way to protect pro-bono workers.

Next, the dialogue focused on how organizations can recruit and create partnerships for pro-bono work., resulting in some helpful considerations. One discussant mentioned their creation of a network of 16,000 volunteers who are registered through them and take part in a wide variety of outreach programs, education meetings and conferences, etc. This group is notified weekly of a wide array of possible volunteer opportunities. Additionally, another participant offered a variety of suggestions they learned in a nationwide testimony collection regarding efficiency, expanding contacts, and utilizing interns. All of these suggestions are helpful for organizations interested in starting or expanding the use of pro-bono work.

Thirdly, the dialogue focused on ways of training lawyers for pro-bono work, which was immediately considered very necessary to introduce pro-bono work to regions where it doesn’t exist, to maintain a high quality of this work, and to maximize its effectiveness in areas where it is already conducted. Indeed, it was pointed out that in areas where pro-bono work has no legal framework, collective collaboration is necessary to create a possible mechanism. One discussant mentioned VanceNet as a global platform for the exchange of resources for pro-bono workers. Although, simply exchanging resources is not enough, as another participant pointed out the need for both face-to-face training and material resources in both technical legal issues and practical how-to guides. This kind of work has even been done specifically for NGO’s to help them reach their maximum effectiveness. Lastly, questions came up regarding the harnessing of help given to clients by ethics standards and health providers, and how training would be necessary to understand these limits.

Afterwards, the dialogue briefly expanded on the earlier topic of security threats involved with pro-bono work, for both clients and lawyers. As for clients, it was suggested to educate them on being aware of their surroundings and not being too risky, especially in the case of journalists, and how to use electronics to notify people of their whereabouts. As for the security of lawyers, one participant shared their experiences of having to set their own rules in their office after been repeatedly threatened by clients. Also discussed was the use of bringing accomplices (other lawyers or paralegals) to detention centers where pro-bono workers are held, and publicizing information on the arrests or enforced disappearances of workers.

Lastly, issues of financial sustainability were discussed in relation to pro-bono work, composing the most discussed issue of the entire dialogue. The follow list is composed of suggestions from participants regarding strategies for fundraising, attracting volunteers, gaining acceptance in legal communities, and many other issues aimed at keeping pro-bono work sustainable in one’s community.

All of these suggestions are wonderful for an organization interested in starting, expanding, or just trying to be more effective in its pro-bono work. This dialogue has illuminated the possibilities of pro-bono work to create progress in human rights, but like any tactic, it needs to be carefully thought-out for it to work. Hopefully this dialogue proved resourceful to those involved and to readers passing-by. 

Conversation Leaders

DewaMavhinga's picture
Dewa Mavhinga
Zimbabwean human rights lawyer
reginagermain's picture
Regina Germain
Rocky Mountain Survivors Center
Entila's picture
Entila Zyba
Albanian Disability Rights Foundation
jprestholdt's picture
Jennifer Prestholdt
The Advocates for Human Rights
wilbert's picture
Wilbert P Mandinde
elockwood's picture
Eric Lockwood
Instituto Pro Bono
ebaraka's picture
Elisabeth Baraka
Advocates for International Development
etotetot2003's picture
Rex J.M.A. Fernandez
National Union of People's Lawyers, Karapatan (Philippine Alliance for Human Rights)
Colleen Beebe's picture
Colleen Beebe
The Advocates for Human Rights
nyaradzom's picture
Nyaradzo Muzah
Lawyers for Human Rights
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