Mapping Core Competencies

Is your firm making the most of its pro bono program in developing your attorneys’ skills? Are you strategically linking your pro bono efforts with professional development opportunities and performance evaluations? Although the nexus between pro bono and professional development has long been acknowledged, largely in an informal way, many firms have come to recognize that the hands-on experience that pro bono work provides can be invaluable. Developmental pro bono assignments, or targeting pro bono work to cultivate skills, are particularly effective ways for attorneys to develop and demonstrate many of the “hard” and “soft” skills required for advancement.

The Law Firm Pro Bono Project has long advocated that the strategic linking of pro bono assignments with professional development opportunities and thoughtful performance evaluations offers tremendous value to both law firm pro bono supporters and professional development leadership. To advance these efforts, we designed a toolkit, Talent Management Trends: Law Firm Core Competencies and Pro Bono, which offers guidance and tips for using pro bono opportunities as part of any core competency and performance evaluation system. Visit our Resource Clearinghouse to download the publication, which is free for Law Firm Project Members and available to all others for purchase.

The toolkit is designed as a resource for law firm partners and professional development staff, including training, assignment, staffing, and evaluations professionals and committees, who should be mindful of how they can utilize developmental pro bono opportunities to boost their implementation of core competencies and performance evaluations in a cost-effective manner. Likewise, it is a resource for pro bono responsible staff, who should be aligning their outreach and intake efforts to build core competencies and satisfy attorney development goals. The successful integration of pro bono and professional development can serve the dual good of assisting indigent clients and promoting access to justice, while fostering the growth and training of firm attorneys.

A missing piece of the pro bono/core competency puzzle has been clearly articulated guidance for law firms and individual attorneys explaining how specific pro bono matters translate into opportunities to develop particular skills and core competencies. This information is now available, as earlier this year our friends at the New York City Bar’s Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services published its Pro Bono Competencies Analysis. Created with input from many lawyers who practice at law firms, legal service providers, corporations, and law schools, this chart maps competencies and skills gained through specific pro bono matters. Twenty-seven legal skills (spanning litigation, bankruptcy, and transactional attorneys) and 50 common pro bono practice areas are listed, with assigned “scores” to represent how often each skill is utilized in each practice area. For example, the chart shows that pro bono work on a child support case nearly always provides attorneys with opportunities for client interactions and court appearances, and prisoners’ rights cases almost always involve document drafting. This information can be leveraged to pursue pro bono matters that foster particular skills and experiences.

We encourage attorneys and professional development staff to use pro bono opportunities to foster growth and training while increasing access to justice and helping those in need. How does your firm use pro bono to cultivate attorneys’ skills? Has your firm mapped competencies and skills specific to pro bono matters? Send us any materials you’ve developed and/or leave us a comment.

Hat tip to PBI intern Lori Panosyan for her help with this post.