New Modes of Pro Bono

Legal aid groups are in crisis. They’re understaffed, they cannot serve all of the people who try to access their services, and they have very limited funding to support their work or expand it. Current pro bono initiatives — meant to get well-resourced law firms’ help to these legal aid groups — come up short.

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We are launching the New Modes of Pro Bono project to design and implement better ways of getting more support to legal aid groups. Pro bono initiatives could call upon many more actors (beyond law firm lawyers), and provide many other kinds of resources (beyond legal expertise) to address the overwhelming access to justice crisis in the civil courts.

Our goal is to create new initiatives to get better support to legal aid groups in sustainable, rich ways.

Our first pilot centers around Administrative Support — an issue that legal aid groups raised frequently as a major drain on their resources and distraction from more substantive legal work. Legal aid attorneys spend a significant part of their workday on administrative tasks, which reduces the amount of time they are able to spend providing legal services to their low-income clients. Pro bono offices often have little to no funding for administrative support for their attorneys. Our challenge was: can we increase legal aid group’s capacity to do client-focused expert legal work by taking admin work — which they don’t have specialized staff or resources for — off their plate?

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We are designing a new service, in which a law firm (or a vendor that this law firm uses) takes care of a legal aid groups’ filing of documents with a court. Our core concept is that we can leverage law firms’ administrative resources to help legal aid groups’ with their admin needs — and use it to open a wider movement of new types of pro bono initiatives.

Currently we are planning a pilot, working with a Bay Area law firm, legal aid group, and administrative support vendor to carry out a first version of this service. The law firm will use its existing relationship with the admin vendor to incentivize them to provide free court filings to the legal aid group.

Our expectation is that this outsourcing of admin work will increase the legal aid lawyers’ capacity to represent clients, as well as improve their own satisfaction with their daily work. As we roll out the pilot version of the service, we will be gathering data to see if the service has the desired outcomes — allowing legal aid attorneys increased capacity to serve clients, and improving their day-to-day satisfaction at work.

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If the pilot version finds success, then we anticipate that our model could also be applied to a range of further administrative resources, including:

  • office support (printing, copying, and transcribing)
  • word processing
  • tech support
  • translation services
  • sharing unused computer software (licenses) + hardware (replaced computers)
  • completing grant applications
  • court filing support

Beyond this pilot, we intend to open up a new conversation in the legal profession about what these new models of pro bono could be & then launch these new models to increase the capacity and quality of services available to moderate and low income people.

As we formalize this pilot and collect data, we will be updating this page with more information. For now, please find our design process from the Spring 2015 Intro to Legal Design class, in which we devised this new Admin Pro Bono concept & began to scope how it could be implemented.

Our team

In our initial stages of the project, we are a small team who are taking the class team’s pilot plan & figuring out how to implement a short pilot, gather data, and then refine and scale what parts of the pilot work best.

Our team is currently:

Sam Schroeder, a lawyer who completed his LLM at Stanford Law in 2015, and developed this project with a team in the Spring 2015 class Intro to Legal Design

Alexandra Devendra, a lawyer and legal design consultant who worked with the Intro to Legal Design class

Margaret Hagan, leader of the Legal Design Lab and teacher of Intro to Legal Design


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