By Lindsay Haaker
Raising pro bono participation can help lessen the barrier to access to justice for many unrepresented individuals. This makes finding the right approach to increase pro bono engagement critical. According to PBI’s 2023 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Report, participation rates in 2022 were down for both partners and associates at Challenge signatory law firms, marking the second straight year of declines after a string of years with small upticks. In 2022, 63.1 percent of partners and 83.4 percent of associates participated in pro bono, compared to 66.7 percent and 86.8 percent, respectively, in 2021. Similarly, the 2023 Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® Report found that only 49 percent of signatories responding to the CPBO Challenge survey met or exceeded the goal of 50 percent participation in legal pro bono in 2022 by U.S. attorneys.
So, what are the right strategies to maximize pro bono engagement? Are there fun and unique ways to find new volunteers, integrate them into pro bono programming, and keep retention rates high?
Fortunately, there are many potential avenues to successfully increase pro bono volunteer engagement and retain volunteers in meaningful pro bono. These options can range from showing ample appreciation, providing numerous opportunities, playing to the volunteers’ strengths, and welcoming feedback from volunteers (and clients) to improve engagement. Volunteers at law firms and in-house legal departments are notoriously known to have busy schedules, so their time needs to be valued and used properly. Setting actionable goals and expectations on pro bono projects is a good place to start. Along the way, be sure to celebrate short-term wins and achievements. Keep the experience fresh by providing networking opportunities for legal professionals, CLE trainings, and other incentives to do pro bono. Creating a ‘win-win’ mindset for volunteers will have them thinking forward and wanting to come back. Continue to empower action by showcasing meaningful metrics, outcomes, and stories from the volunteers’ work, which can help retain volunteers and inspire new ones.
Of course, this is just a sampling of some suggestions to improve volunteer engagement; there is much more to learn and discuss! Come join us to learn about keeping up volunteer motivation and retention at the Pro Bono Institute (PBI) 2024 Annual Conference in Washington, DC on March 6-8. Several sessions will address this topic from different angles. In one concurrent session, led by Amy Petkovsek, Executive Director of the Community Law Center, participants will dive deeper by engaging in lighthearted, interactive musical games to help discover the secret to recruiting, engaging and retaining pro bono volunteers. (No singing required!) Another concurrent session, on Re-evaluating Pro Bono Engagement, will bring in public interest, law firm, and in-house perspectives on engagement strategies tailored for 2024, considering the recent shift from in-person to virtual to hybrid pro bono efforts. Additionally, PBI is proud to welcome back special guest speaker Dr. Larry Richard, renowned lawyer-psychologist and founder of LawyerBrain LLC. Dr. Larry’s plenary program will address how to use the unique psychology within a lawyer’s brain to your advantage when engaging volunteers. All these sessions will address innovative and unique ways to find new volunteers, fully integrate them into your pro bono programming, and keep them coming back. We hope to see you in Washington, DC this March!