Pro bono behind-the-scenes
Stephanie Cruz Eng[*]
Albagli Zaliasnik, Santiago
In essence, pro bono is the volunteer work undertaken by attorneys for the public good. It is the commitment that shifts our professional abilities into a distinct category in which social change can be obtained in a real and palpable way, not merely as a declaration of principle.
When pro bono is performed within a firm or a legal department in the framework of a programme, as any other legal department, it requires structure, management and execution. Otherwise, instead of thriving, it will most definitely turn into a languishing project with sporadic activity.
In this context, the behind-the-scenes work in pro bono matters becomes a key factor for any firm or legal department that truly wants to implement a meaningful programme. This work is normally performed by a coordinator or director, who works year-round in different facets with the purpose of instilling these core values within their teams and taking on legal challenges for the betterment of society.
The kind of tasks that are done by a pro bono coordinator or director include: the review and selection of pro bono cases; the promotion of the cases within their departments; the follow-up and supervision of the quality of the service and treatment that is provided to pro bono clients; the resolution of any related conflicts related to the performed work; and the liaison with local clearing houses and the legal community.
Larger firms may have pro bono as a completely developed practice area; these engage attorneys working on a full-time basis on pro bono cases. Medium to small sized firms normally have a pro bono programme through which their attorneys take on cases voluntarily (insofar as possible in consideration of their ordinary legal assignments). Many firms have also subscribed to international pro bono initiatives or declarations, by which they assume the commitment to perform a certain number of pro bono hours. In any of these situations, coordinators have the challenging task of balancing the sensible coordination of a pro bono programme and the execution of traditional day-to-day legal work.
So, why be a pro bono coordinator? It is true that it requires many hours of work that seemingly go unseen – but it certainly does not go unnoticed. When you are involved in the coordination of a programme of this kind, you have the responsibility of linking people in need of legal services with professionals that you personally know can make real change and that also desire to do so. This kind of work allows you to continuously contribute to social change with a broader view of how all the pieces fit together for the greater good.
[*] Stephanie Cruz was recognised in November 2022 by Fundación Pro Bono Chile as Coordinator of the Year.