Reframing Pro Bono:
In the realm of pro bono work, it is common to gauge a firm’s contribution based solely on the number of hours devoted to it. However, a senior associate from a prominent law firm argues that there are additional crucial factors that should be considered.
While recent studies have shown a consistent increase in the number of hours dedicated to pro bono work, they have failed to assess the quality of the work produced and the relationships formed as a result.
Kamran Khalid, a senior associate specializing in pro bono work at Bartier Perry, shares his perspective on the matter. He believes that law firms should approach pro bono clients with the same level of dedication as they do with their commercial clients, emphasizing legal excellence, client relationships, and industry knowledge.
According to Mr. Khalid, measuring the success of pro bono work goes beyond simply tallying up the hours spent. It encompasses the quality and timeliness of the work performed and the meaningful connections established with clients. He notes that most law firms focus their client strategies on specific sectors, developing a deep understanding of their clients’ challenges and providing legal services in areas experiencing high demand. Charities and other pro bono clients seek the same level of commitment.
As the manager of Bartier Perry’s pro bono program, Mr. Khalid ensures that the firm’s approach to pro bono clients aligns with that of their commercial clients. For example, they have concentrated their pro bono services on various core areas, including assisting Indigenous clients, resulting in a significant increase in workflow in that domain.
While hours remain important, they should not be the sole criterion for evaluating a pro bono program. For Bartier Perry, cultivating relationships in targeted sectors such as Indigenous, disability, and regional areas is paramount. Riana Steyn, the chief executive of Bartier Perry, emphasizes that channeling good intentions and individual passions into a structured program allows for the best outcomes for both clients and communities.
Ms. Steyn highlights that pro bono clients do not want their legal advisors to treat them as an afterthought, squeezed in between other matters when there is spare time. She stresses the importance of adopting a commercially focused approach when serving nonprofits and individuals, as that is what many of these clients seek in legal advice.
Ms. Steyn commends Kamran for bringing a strategic and legal project management perspective to their pro bono initiatives, which enables the firm to have a more organized approach to pro bono development.
In conclusion, taking a haphazard approach to pro bono work without clear sector focus and commitment does not benefit either the firm or the clients in the long run. Like any client relationship strategy, it involves complexity and difficult choices.