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Graphic: Best Practices Client-Centered Collaboration

Best Practices in Pro Bono Returns with a Focus on Client-Centered Collaboration

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I recently had a chance to talk to our board member Paul Lee about the new season of the Best Practices in Pro Bono Program. This year’s four-part series will focus on Client-Centered Collaboration. (By the way, the first session is just around the corner, on November 6, 2013 from 8:30 to 10:00 am at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which is generously hosting the program for the second year.)

Paul brought me up to speed on how Best Practices got started and some exciting new developments for next year.

The start of a beautiful friendship

Paul explained that we launched the Best Practices program last year to bring together local legal services providers and law firms to explore how to develop and strengthen pro bono collaborations. Both groups are deeply committed to providing excellent pro bono services, but they rarely had the chance to sit down together and talk candidly about their shared goals.

As a result, the theme of the inaugural Best Practices program was Building Effective Pro Bono Relationships, with four sessions examining the continuum of pro bono services from start to finish. The sessions highlighted how to develop strong pro bono partnerships, training and preparing volunteer attorneys, connecting clients to pro bono representation, providing mentoring and supervision once a matter is placed, setting boundaries with clients, closing out matters, and keeping the collaboration going. The Best Practices program also looked at non-traditional models of pro bono service and focused on collaborating for impact.

Participants in last year’s program came from a wide range of local legal services providers and law firms, ranging from very small to quite large, and including organizations with long-established pro bono programs and groups considering new or expanded pro bono programs.

New year, new theme

In its second year, the Best Practices program has a new theme: Client-Centered Collaboration. Plus, the program will now feature opportunities for informal (and low-key) networking before each sessions begins.

The first session—Who is Our Client?—will take a close look at how poverty impacts the legal issues many pro bono clients face. Poverty is an enormous issue in the DC area, and a large percentage of clients served through pro bono efforts are low-income or otherwise struggling financially. This session will examine the interaction of poverty and legal issues and assess how to prepare volunteer attorneys to navigate these issues.

The second session—Holistic Support for Our Client— is a counterpart to the first session, with a focus on clients’ non-legal problems. Holistic Support will address questions such as: What do we do to address clients’ non-legal issues? Is that the role of pro bono? How can we take a holistic approach by connecting clients with resources and assistance for non-legal problems?

The third session—My Client, the Organization—expands on the client-centered theme to explore pro bono services for organizational clients. Many law firms are particularly well-situated to provide pro bono services to organizations given expertise in corporate structures, tax, and other relevant areas. This session will tackle how law firms can target pro bono work to serve organizational clients—and how legal services providers can take advantage of law firms’ expertise in serving organizational clients.

The final session—How Well Are We Serving Our Clients?—will focus on evaluating pro bono efforts from a client-centered perspective. The discussion will examine questions such as: How well are we serving our clients? How should we evaluate our work? When we finish a matter, how do we assess our work and identify areas of success and need for improvement?

The most important meal of the day

Best Practices is unique for its breakfast hour meeting time. I had to ask Paul about the breakfast offerings, which I’ve heard are quite the draw. Paul noted that donuts are especially popular, but he gives all the credit to our Executive Director, Nancy Lopez, who brings the food, and Fried Frank, which provides excellent coffee.