The Challenge, and its definition of pro bono, has become an industry standard guiding well over 60,000 attorneys at Challenge signatory law firms (as well as many other organizations). For their part, Challenge signatory firms have responded to the call, boosting pro bono hours three-fold in just the last 20 years alone. As pro bono programs have expanded and become more sophisticated, questions around how pro bono resources should be deployed to best contribute to the public good and move our society closer to universal access to justice have also arisen.
The PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project initiative has responded to these developments in two ways:
In August 2021, PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project convened the Defining Law Firm Pro Bono working group to re-examine the definition of pro bono, as outlined in Challenge documents, to ensure they remain current and constructive in meeting the needs of underserved communities. The working group consists of a diverse group of 13 law firm pro bono program leaders.
Working Group Members include: Hilarie Atkisson, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility/Pro Bono Counsel, Fenwick & West; Wendy Atrokhov, Public Service Counsel, Director of Global Pro Bono, Latham & Watkins; Tiffany Graves, Pro Bono Counsel, Bradley; Amy Grunske, Head of International Pro Bono, Sustainability & Community Responsibility, Orrick; Chris Herrling, Pro Bono Counsel, WilmerHale; Lamin Khadar, Sustainability Lawyer, Dentons; Alison King, Pro Bono Counsel, Kirkland & Ellis; Paul Lee, Pro Bono Counsel, Steptoe; Leah Medway, Pro Bono Counsel, Perkins Coie; Cheryl Naja, Director of Pro Bono and Community Service, Alston & Bird; Carolyn Rosenthal, Director of Pro Bono, Goodwin; Kathleen Wach, Pro Bono Counsel, Miller Chavelier; and Angie Zimmern, Pro Bono Director & Senior Counsel, McGuireWoods;
The key areas under review by the working group are impact finance and social impact, public rights, global pro bono, and racial justice. The group is expected to complete its work and make recommendations to PBI leadership later in 2022.
PBI President and CEO, Eve Runyon, said, “I applaud the diligent efforts and intentions of the Working Group to reflect developments in pro bono today. They’ve been examining Challenge documents to reflect the forward movement of our society, with an eye toward ensuring the Challenge expresses our commitment to the advancement of access to justice for all.”
Complementing the effort of the Working Group to ensure that the Challenge directs signatories to the full range of pro bono efforts needed to best improve access to justice, in January 2022, PBI expanded the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge pledge to expressly embody a commitment by Challenge signatories to combat racial injustices and other systemic injustice through their pro bono work. In particular, the following provision was included in the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge Statement of Principles:
5. In furtherance of these principles, our firm also agrees:
d) To support the proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all by identifying and volunteering for pro bono opportunities that target racial injustice and other systemic inequities in the legal system.
In short, heartened by both the individual and collective efforts being made by law firms to address racial injustice, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project initiative, with the endorsement of both the PBI Board of Directors and the Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee embraced the legal communities’ renewed commitment to ensure that there is no room for racism and systemic inequities in a legal system that promised access to justice for all.
“Updating this provision in the Challenge statement of principles honors the belief that racism and systemic inequalities must not be tolerated in our legal system,” said Runyon. “This is a truly important direction as we embark on our next 25 years of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project.”
In calling out racial injustice and other systemic inequities in the legal system, PBI is not narrowing the scope of work that qualifies as pro bono under the Challenge but is recognizing that there is no room for racism and other systemic inequities in a legal system that promises access to justice for all.
These changes to the Challenge will allow Challenge signatory firms to continue to support the special needs of people of limited means, while re-examining what it means to apply best efforts to promote access to justice for all. In June, PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project will publish a report on the pro bono performance of Challenge signatories in 2021. This Report will include information on signatories’ efforts in support of racial justice.
To view the full Challenge Statement of Principles, click here