September 26, 2006

Bar, law firm and legal aid leaders from around the world offered tips on how to set up an effective pro bono legal aid program at a session entitled, “Access to Justice – Best Practices,” which was held last week at the International Bar Association Conference in Chicago.

Partner Barry Levenstam, Co-Chair of Jenner & Block’s Pro Bono Committee, spoke at the seminar and shared some of the “best practices” that have helped the Firm’s award-winning pro bono program to thrive.

Mr. Levenstam suggested that it’s important to reflect an organization’s commitment to helping the poor formally in its official core values or mission statement.  He also said that attorneys will be more likely to volunteer for pro bono projects when the importance of legal aid is emphasized by the organization’s leadership, both by creating supportive pro bono policies and by taking on their own pro bono projects.

He said effective pro bono programs should also encourage attorneys to “follow their charitable instincts” by becoming involved in the causes, organizations and issues that are important to them.  He noted that joining the board of directors of a favorite charity, for example, can often result in referrals for pro bono legal work as that charity encounters labor, intellectual property or governance-related issues.

In addition, panelist Bettina B. Plevan, President of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, addressed what role bar associations play in encouraging attorneys to donate their time to pro bono projects.  Don Deya, CEO of the East African Law Society, a regional bar association based in Arusha, Tanzania, addressed pro bono efforts in his area of the world.  And Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Directorate of Citizen’s Rights in Lagos, Nigeria, addressed local efforts to improve  access to justice for Nigerian citizens.

The discussion was moderated by Evlynne Gilvarry of The Law Society of England & Wales.