What is the role of rewards/awards in generating pro bono participation? What evidence do you have of their efficacy?
For years I have struggled with this issue! The standard practice is to give an award to the most hours, the most cases,the longest serving or the most of something but I have never been totally sure that is the best way to inspire. For some people it is but for others it is too out of touch with reality. It all goes back to what motivates the individual to participate in pro bono work. For some people a simple verbal thank you is all they need to keep inspired. I guess the bottom line about awards is to diversify- do many things on many levels and try to keep in mind what you are actually rewarding. For many years I have had a policy of writing 5 notes a week! It may be as simple as reading in the advance sheets about a recent alumni who won a case on behalf of an abuse victim or maybe a note to a student who did a great piece of research for a lawyer. Just a few handwritten words can go a long way to expressing thanks and keeping people inspired. Just my two cents worth.
For a few years the Colorado Supreme Court has been giving awards to firms (includes solos, small firms, and in-house counsel) that average 50 hours of pro bono per attorney. The firms send an email to Justice Hobbs to make the pledge and then, hopefully, self report their fulfillment of that pledge. In the spring, we had one big ceremony to honor those who both pledged and fulfilled their pledge. The event was always held here in Denver and the majority, if not all, of the Justices were in attendance. Each recipient would get their picture taken with the Court. This year we had 12 events (some regional, some county wide, some covering specific judicial districts). Justice Hobbs went to all, except two where Justice Marquez took his place. A representative from the Office of Attorney Regulation also traveled with us and presented a free CLE on “Unbundled Legal Services in Pro Bono.” It was a great success, but it really is just the beginning. Some of the events were held in conjunction with the Colorado Bar Association Presidential Visit, so the audience was not just the local pro bono community. At one event, a Supreme Court awardee was asked by fellow local bar members how she got the award. Getting people to talk about it is step one. This was our first year of taking “the show on the road” and it will be very interesting to see the effects it has in the future. Going forward our goal is to hold the Supreme Court Pro Bono Recognition Ceremony at the local bar visits, because that attracts such a broad group of attorneys.
Awards can hold an important role in promoting a culture of pro bono service, where those attorneys who “give back” and who genuinely take their role as officers of the court seriously are seen as the leaders of the law. Appleseed and our network of centers work in places such as NY and DC where there is a generous culture of pro bono service, as well as in jurisdictions with no such tradition. Awards may be part of helping create a culture of pro bono, but awards are one piece in a puzzle that must also include law school commitment, leadership within law firms, structures of credit within law firms, collegial relations among non-profits and law firms, and philanthropic giving to NGOs to allow them to manage pro bono projects. We at Appleseed are grateful for those who provide pro bono service to us, and are happy to recognize such service in multiple ways, including giving awards. Some attorneys may do pro bono because they are genuninely committed to the causes they serve; others may need to pick up skills or check a box at their firms. I suspect very few volunteer in the hope of getting an award, but whatever the motivation, as long as our projects receive prompt, professional, creative, thorough attention, we are truly grateful for the pro bono service.
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