In New Report, Association of Pro Bono Counsel Examines Impact of the Pandemic on Pro Bono Work

Report highlights nearly a dozen positive developments in pro bono practice that should remain in place in a post-pandemic world

(Washington, D.C.) – The Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo), an organization comprising over 270 pro bono practice leaders at more than 130 of the world’s largest law firms, is proud to announce the publication of its report Positive Change: How the Pandemic Changed Pro Bono and What We Should Keep. A team from Akin Gump, led by firm pro bono partner Steven Schulman, and DLA Piper provided counsel and assistance to APBCo in the development of the report.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced much of the world to adapt to remote interaction. In response, legal services organizations (LSOs), volunteer lawyers and pro bono clients all had to adapt to new means of communication, while courts and administrative agencies that serve the public primarily in person needed to change their methods.

Positive Change, which was developed in close consultation with industry professionals and colleagues at LSOs and other nonprofit legal advocacy organizations, examines how these adaptations changed pro bono work and provides recommendations on what practices developed during the pandemic that should be retained as the world transitions back to in-person interactions.

While acknowledging the reality that technology obstacles remain, Positive Change highlights developments brought on by the pandemic, including the increased use of technology for client outreach and case management, the enhanced accessibility offered by virtual clinics, and the use of video hearings by courts to reduce the burden of attendance at in-person hearings by those seeking help. As the report states, during the pandemic, “LSOs and pro bono volunteers learned to reach clients who previously could not receive assistance,” while “courts and administrative agencies charged with resolving disputes, securing protection, and delivering public benefits found that they could serve the public in safer and more efficient and effective ways.”

In highlighting these developments, the report makes a strong and compelling case for why many should remain in a post-pandemic environment.

Commenting on the report, Mr. Schulman, who is immediate-past president of APBCo, stated, “We hope that this will spark thoughtful discussion about how we—pro bono volunteers, legal services organizations, bar associations and the courts—can continue to expand access to justice for all members of our communities.”

APBCo co-president Tiffany Graves added that the report highlights the critical role LSOs play in pro bono, acting as the key bridge between pro bono volunteers and clients in need: “Our work during the pandemic was guided by LSOs, as it always has been, and this report demonstrates the grit and ingenuity they demonstrated during the pandemic that allowed our pro bono work to continue.” 

Among the nearly dozen developments highlighted in Positive Change that should remain in place as the industry returns to post-pandemic norms are:

  • Expanded use of virtual clinics.
  • Increased use of technology, including social media platforms, to reach, and communicate with, clients.
  • Increased flexibility offered by virtual meetings and hearings.
  • Expanded technology resources for clients, courts and volunteers.

Ron Flagg, president of the Legal Services Corporation and an advisor to the team writing the report, stated, “This report aptly describes the many innovations used during the pandemic by legal services providers and pro bono volunteers to communicate with and serve people who need, but can’t afford, a lawyer. More importantly, the report identifies those innovations that should continue to be used after the pandemic to maximize access to justice in America.”

Added Adam Heintz, director of pro bono legal services, Legal Services NYC, "Pro bono has undergone transformative changes during the pandemic, with remote forms of representation going from the margins to the mainstream. For low-income clients, this has presented both new opportunities and new barriers. This report documents many of those changes, with an eye toward applying the lessons learned to expand and improve pro bono efforts going forward." 

Beyond Mr. Flagg and Mr. Heintz, other legal services leaders who guided the development of Positive Change included Jo-Ann Wallace, president, National Legal Aid & Defender Association; Eve Runyon, president, Pro Bono Institute; and Tiela Chalmers, CEO and general counsel, Alameda County Bar Association.

In addition to Mr. Schulman, the Akin Gump team advising on the report included associates Fatima Bishtawi, Jamila Cambridge, Hilary John, Pranav Lokin and Atena Sheibani-Nejad.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a leading international law firm with more than 900 lawyers in offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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