Breaking Poverty Barriers to Equal Justice

Trio larherAre you interested in strengthening communication with your pro bono clients? Ethnic and socio-economic cultural differences between pro bono attorneys and clients can jeopardize the attorney-client relationship. Lindquist & Vennum*†, in conjunction with the Volunteer Lawyers Network, developed a training program for use nationwide that aims to bridge these gaps and facilitate systemic change. The training video modules and curriculum guide feature the expertise of Dr. Donna Beegle, a nationally recognized professional trainer from Communication Across Barriers in Portland, Ore.

We received a preview of this innovative project earlier this year at the 2015 PBI Annual Conference. Now that the program has officially launched, we spoke with Cynthia Anderson, Lindquist’s Pro Bono Director, about the training modules, how to use them, and future plans for the initiative:

The PBEye: How did the Breaking Poverty Barriers to Equal Justice training program get started and what are your goals for the program?

C.A.: In the provision of our own pro bono services, we realized that there was not a great deal of effective training available that relates to cultural awareness between socioeconomic classes. We thought if we are seeing this gap in knowledge and instruction, people across the country are as well, so we sought to provide training that could be used nationwide. We ran the project concept by the judiciary in Minnesota, in-house attorneys at Target Corporation**, and nonprofits and discovered there was great interest and a sense of need for this kind of training. It became a two-part project; part one is now complete and part two will hopefully be a companion video that nonprofits can use to prepare clients to work more effectively with pro bono attorneys.

Attorneys are in a fantastic position to look at actual systems change and become real advocates for their clients beyond the scope of pro bono when they start to understand how these socioeconomic barriers are affecting people in different ways. Hopefully we are getting client solutions on an individual basis, but also moving attorneys to start thinking more systemically about poverty and understanding the systems that are affecting people.

The PBEye: How do you see this program being used and do you have any tips for law firms and legal departments interested in using it?

C.A.: We have envisioned it being used in a number of different ways. At first we thought of it solely being used with a facilitator, hosted by nonprofits that have pro bono training programs or law firms and in-house legal departments, but it can also be viewed independently. At the request of another large corporate entity, we are also entertaining its use via remote participation in a WebEx format. I think it’s most effective as a group training because there are interesting interactions that occur among the participants. We’ve found that it can be effective as one half-day training, but can also be broken into smaller segments. I would encourage program hosts to distribute the entire curriculum guide to participants. With the curriculum guide, you can go much deeper than even the four-hour training.

The PBEye: What are your plans for the companion video (the second part of this training program)?

C.A.: We’re envisioning the client piece as a much shorter tool for nonprofits (somewhere between an eight to ten-minute video). The idea is to quickly inform clients who are in poverty about what they can expect from a pro bono representation and provide information about the role of the attorney, how to build trust with the attorney, and other various nuts and bolts issues, such as bringing relevant documents to appointments and staying in contact with your pro bono attorney and being responsive.


To date, more than 75 participants have registered for the program, ranging from law schools and bar associations to law firms and legal departments. 3M Company** will be hosting a version of the training this November at its headquarters in Minnesota. If you are interested in completing the training program, either individually or as a group, click here to register and download the curriculum guide, which provides recommendations for facilitating a training. For more information, please contact Cynthia Anderson.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge®

This interview has been condensed and edited for space.

Hat tip to PBI intern Matt Dorocak for this assistance with this post.