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Providing legal services to the poor and indigent is not only more important than ever before — it is one of the best ways to do well by doing good. Providing pro bono services in a strategic manner can also be an opportunity for a firm to provide meaningful work, to help train the next generation of leaders, and to build connections both internally and throughout the greater community. Larger firms with multiple offices spread across geographic areas have unique challenges in developing a robust pro bono program. But it is an opportunity to build cohesion, a sense of community and shared purpose. The first, most strategic decision is how to focus pro bono time (and money). Making this decision forces you to think about what is important to your firm and where your work can really make a difference. It’s not about what matters in the moment to any particular person; it’s about how your firm can make a special difference. Making this decision should bring together the resources and expertise of diverse practice groups, sections and offices. Our firm chose to make domestic violence its signature project. As part of these efforts, we provide assistance to battered women seeking protective orders in local courts, consult with state and local service providers on their legal issues, from contracts to legislation, and assist a national advocacy organization with legal briefs, legislative advocacy and other legal needs. We have found that this multifaceted approach allows lawyers from several practice groups and several offices to build shared core values and competencies. In a firm with several offices, it may be difficult to reach consensus or sell one idea to management. Focusing on more than one area is fine so long as you can achieve the desired results in each one. For example, our pro bono priorities are much wider than domestic violence, and allow for almost any sort of project to be undertaken by an interested lawyer. � Motivate Associates. Of course, in order to have a successful pro bono program, it is essential to encourage associates to get involved. One approach is to require pro bono hours as part of an overall target. This does not always have the desired result: Firms that mandate pro bono may get the required effort but destroy enthusiasm in the process. Over the long term, motivating associates is as important as logging hours. It is very important to give associates appropriate credit for the time they spend on pro bono. If, as is likely, your firm has a billable-hour target, then pro bono time should count toward that target. This sends the right message: that pro bono clients are real clients who deserve the same care and attention as paying clients. Of course, one of the most important but least recognized ways to motivate associates is to encourage partners to get involved in pro bono themselves. � Set One Policy. Along these lines, we have found it essential to have one firmwide pro bono policy. When it comes to explaining our pro bono initiatives, how to get approval for a new assignment, and how to obtain the necessary resources, a firmwide policy promotes uniformity and transparency and encourages associates to take pro bono seriously. � Form a Firmwide Committee. Encouraging participation from multiple offices is a complex task. Many times, lawyers will have existing ties to community groups and causes that fit within the firm’s overall strategic plan for pro bono. Other times, they bring their own individual causes to the table. Regardless, what is important is to cultivate the pro bono culture firmwide. One way to do this is to set up a committee to oversee the pro bono program and include representatives from each office. Current committee members can advise new members and newer offices on the firm’s overall pro bono strategy, as well as the mundane processes. In this way, the firm not only enhances its pro bono efforts, but also brings together and further binds people who may not otherwise work together. Our firm’s pro bono committee includes representatives from all geographic regions at the partner and associate levels. We discuss proposals to undertake new work and monitor existing projects, “meeting” most frequently by e-mail. We review best practices from other firms, share news about community needs and recent initiatives, and discuss ways to encourage participation. Having an active pro bono committee has helped stimulate and encourage pro bono efforts firmwide. � Communicate, Communicate. We have found that frequent communication, formal and informal, between and among the various offices is an essential component of a successful pro bono program. Our firm uses e-mail, video and audio conferencing, and newsletters to provide information, share stories of success, encourage and exhort each other and learn about opportunities. Our Web site and intranet provide background on our pro bono program, important information about initiating a project and updates on recent developments. Constant communication helps to reinforce the messages underlying your firm’s strategic commitment to pro bono. � Recognize Achievements. For the past 11 years, our firm has held an annual firmwide award ceremony to honor and encourage pro bono contributions. Last year, the firm’s Washington, D.C., office won this tribute for setting a firm record: More than 75 percent of the attorneys and staff worked on pro bono matters in 2001. Recognizing individuals and entire offices encourages participation by others and helps advance the firm’s pro bono strategic vision. � Offer Other Professional Services. Of course, pro bono activities should not be limited to providing legal services. Many larger multidisciplinary firms also have expertise in public relations, political consulting and information technology. Including these additional services in your pro bono program enhances value to your clients and further integrates the firm across sectors and offices. For example, our technology outsourcing subsidiary, TechNexxus, provided consulting and design work to build a Web site for a national domestic violence advocacy group, and offers ongoing technical support. Our consulting affiliate, ML Strategies, frequently advises the same client on legislative strategy. � Coordinate With Community Activities. Integrate your firm’s community service program into your pro bono efforts. Our full-time director of community service works with each office to develop and implement a community service agenda with opportunities for staff at all levels to contribute. As much as possible, given each office’s interests and opportunities, we seek to connect these efforts with ongoing pro bono efforts. � Join Nonprofit Boards. Being on the board of directors of nonprofit and community service organizations is a great way for lawyers to provide additional value to these groups. Lawyers often have the sort of skills that are highly in demand for board work. And it’s not for partners only. We encourage lawyers at all levels to join boards because it’s the right thing to do and because it adds another important dimension to our community involvement. � Become a Financial Supporter. Finally, you should not underestimate the importance of thinking strategically about your charitable financial contributions. Frequently, organizations that you support through pro bono lawyering need and appreciate your financial assistance, as well. Becoming a financial supporter builds a stronger connection to the organizations to which you donate time. Though it is not easy to logistically and culturally transcend geography so that all firm offices can participate and benefit from pro bono activities, it is important to try — and these strategies may help. Fernando R. Laguarda is a partner in the Washington office of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. He is a member of the firm’s pro bono committee.

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