Engaging Pro-Bono Lawyers

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Engaging Pro-Bono Lawyers

Thank you for joining the New Tactics online community for an online dialogue featuring Engaging Pro-Bono Lawyers. A major obstacle for victims of human rights abuses is gaining access to legal representation in order to file a complaint against the perpetrator. This online dialogue will be space for practitioners to share successful tactics for engaging pro-bono, or free, legal services through access to a variety of professional resources.

Our featured resource practitioners include (click here for biographical information):

  • Regina Germain of the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, United States
  • Jennifer Prestholdt and Colleen Beebe of The Advocates, United States
  • Nyaradzo Muza of the Lawyers for Human Rights, South Africa
  • Dewa Mavhinga, an independent pro-bono human rights lawyer, Zimbabwe
  • Elisabeth Baraka of the Advocates for International Development, United Kingdom
  • Wilbert Mandinde, Zimbabwe (currently at the University of Essex in the UK)
  • Eric Lockwood of the Instituto Pro Bono, Brazil
  • Rex Fernandez of Karapatan, Philippines
  • Entila Zyba of the Albanian Disability Rights Foundation

Summary of Dialogue

The New Tactics Featured Dialogue “Engaging Pro-Bono Lawyers” tackled the issues of defining what a pro-bono lawyer is, what they do, how to develop a network of partnerships and volunteers in pro-bono work, how to train lawyers interested in pro-bono work, what issues of security existed in pro-bono work, and finally, how can pro-bono work be sustainably maintained.

The nature of pro-bono law was initially discussed, establishing the services which pro-bono lawyers provide. A very comprehensive definition of pro-bono work indicated the importance of providing legal assistance to marginalized populations, ranging from advice to counseling, and from legal representation to education. The theme of education was identified as a core concept that is often forgotten or underestimated, and educational work taken in Peru and Thailand by two different pro-bono organizations was presented. Lastly, a serious concern regarding the safety and security of pro-bono workers, who are often identified as dissidents by government or paramilitary forces, was mentioned. An example of community support and involvement in pro-bono work was given as a possible way to protect pro-bono workers.

Next, the dialogue focused on how organizations can recruit and create partnerships for pro-bono work., resulting in some helpful considerations. One discussant mentioned their creation of a network of 16,000 volunteers who are registered through them and take part in a wide variety of outreach programs, education meetings and conferences, etc. This group is notified weekly of a wide array of possible volunteer opportunities. Additionally, another participant offered a variety of suggestions they learned in a nationwide testimony collection regarding efficiency, expanding contacts, and utilizing interns. All of these suggestions are helpful for organizations interested in starting or expanding the use of pro-bono work.

Thirdly, the dialogue focused on ways of training lawyers for pro-bono work, which was immediately considered very necessary to introduce pro-bono work to regions where it doesn’t exist, to maintain a high quality of this work, and to maximize its effectiveness in areas where it is already conducted. Indeed, it was pointed out that in areas where pro-bono work has no legal framework, collective collaboration is necessary to create a possible mechanism. One discussant mentioned VanceNet as a global platform for the exchange of resources for pro-bono workers. Although, simply exchanging resources is not enough, as another participant pointed out the need for both face-to-face training and material resources in both technical legal issues and practical how-to guides. This kind of work has even been done specifically for NGO’s to help them reach their maximum effectiveness. Lastly, questions came up regarding the harnessing of help given to clients by ethics standards and health providers, and how training would be necessary to understand these limits.

Afterwards, the dialogue briefly expanded on the earlier topic of security threats involved with pro-bono work, for both clients and lawyers. As for clients, it was suggested to educate them on being aware of their surroundings and not being too risky, especially in the case of journalists, and how to use electronics to notify people of their whereabouts. As for the security of lawyers, one participant shared their experiences of having to set their own rules in their office after been repeatedly threatened by clients. Also discussed was the use of bringing accomplices (other lawyers or paralegals) to detention centers where pro-bono workers are held, and publicizing information on the arrests or enforced disappearances of workers.

Lastly, issues of financial sustainability were discussed in relation to pro-bono work, composing the most discussed issue of the entire dialogue. The follow list is composed of suggestions from participants regarding strategies for fundraising, attracting volunteers, gaining acceptance in legal communities, and many other issues aimed at keeping pro-bono work sustainable in one’s community.

All of these suggestions are wonderful for an organization interested in starting, expanding, or just trying to be more effective in its pro-bono work. This dialogue has illuminated the possibilities of pro-bono work to create progress in human rights, but like any tactic, it needs to be carefully thought-out for it to work. Hopefully this dialogue proved resourceful to those involved and to readers passing-by. 


(Photo:  Justice Sculpture, Federal Courthouse, Newark, NJ by Brooklyn Bridge Baby)
---What is pro-bono law and why is it so important?
  • What do we mean by ‘pro-bono’ law? Are there international standards for this kind of work?
  • Why is pro-bono law so important?
  • How does it impact those that perform the work and those that benefit from it?
  • What ways can a human rights organization utilize pro-bono lawyers?
  • If the concept of pro-bono law does not exist in your community (or if it is illegal), what are some methods of implementing pro-bono law reform to promote pro-bono services?
What is Pro-bono law and why is it so important

Pro-bono law is the practice of giving legal advice free of charge to marginalised groups in society who might otherwise be unable to access legal services. For example, in Zimbabwe, pro-bono services are designed for poor individuals who need, but cannot afford, legal services. The lawyers who provide the legal services are not paid for their work. Our Law Society encourages all lawyers to give time to pro-bono legal services. The importance of pro-bono law is that it ensures access to legal services by those who may otherwise fail to access the services due to cost.

l have participated in pro-bono legal services targeting women and children provided by Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA). ZWLA runs a mobile legal aid clinic, that is, a team of lawyers make monthly trips to rural areas to offer legal advice and legal representation to those who cannot afford the services. Only qualified lawyers are used to ensure maintenance of the highest standards of legal representation.

Challenges we have faced in Zimbabwe relate to security of lawyers who choose to offer legal services in the field of human rights. Human Rights Lawyers are constantly under threat from State agents, making it difficult for them to do their work and for many to volunteer pro bono work. The other challenge is that fewer lawyers are willing to give free services to more serious offences like murder which take more hours to prepare and take through courts.

Developmental Legal Aid in the Philippines

In the Philiippines, pro bono is encouraged.  but among progressive forces, legal aid for the marginalized and basic sectors of society are more in line with the late anti-dictator activist Jose Diokno's concept of developmental legal aid.

It is a concept where the clients are considered partners in their case.  the approach is not only legal but also what we call meta legal approaches like office trooping, organizing and mobilizations.


What is pro bono?

The premise behind the provision of pro bono services and the underlying ethical and other obligations is that everyone, regardless of status, should have equal access to justice. Thus, the phrase in Latin, Pro Bono, refers to actions taken "for the public good." The idea being that a legal system that ensures justice for everyone will benefit everyone and is in everyone's interest. In the US and other countries' legal systems this has come to mean the provision of free legal services that benefit:

  1. Underprivileged persons or communities
  2. Organizations that help such persons
  3. Civic, cultural and educational institutions that serve the public interest and are not able to obtain effective legal counsel

In addition to the provision of free legal representation to low-income people to ensure access to justice, pro bono services also include:

  1. Legal services for public interest cases
  2. Direct brief advice, service and/or referral (i.e. "first aid")
  3. Legal education/popular education to raise awareness about people's rights
  4. Dispute resolution/mediation
  5. Transactional representation for non-profits/charity /civicorganizations
  6. High impact litigation (litigation that benefits a large number of people)
  7. Law reform and development of public policy that helps underprivileged groups

Colleen Beebe, Attorney at Law
Director of Education
The Advocates for Human Rights
650 South Third Avenue, Suite 550
Minneapolis, MN  55402

pro bono work

when pro bono work becomes part of a stance or an advocacy, it includes not only litigation work but also education.

education includes para legal training and seminars to those who aspire to become para legal workers or as a human rights education to the those people we believe who needs them.

we are also into giving buzz cards and pamphlets to the peasants, workers, church workers, or in other words all those who are at risk with the government counter-insurgency programs or members of organizations called front organizations by the counter insurgency efforts of the government.

these buzz cards are just important information on what to do in times of abduction, illegal arrest and detention.  the pamphlets are expanded versions which include what are their rights and explanation of these rights.


Yes! I totally agree. I believe education is crucial for all actors (service providers, community organizations/faith groups, and clients and their families/the public/the government) to understand how important access to justice issues are and why.

There is an organization in Peru, Paz y Esperanza, that does a great job on integrating education into its overall holistic model to promote justice with (not just on behalf of) those who suffer injustice. For example, they have parents groups of children who've been victimized by physical and sexual abuse. They parents meet to learn about the legal system, what their rights how, how they can accompany their child/children through the justice system to demand that the crimes are prosecuted, and understanding how to help their child and the family heal from such a violation. The parents have become so organized that they go to trials of offenders with signs to demand justice be done, they demonstrate in front of the police and courts, and they make their voices heard (which is amazing because until recently they thought they had no voice. The results have been that perpetrators are being convicted, the region in which they live has declared special days to commemorate those victimized by violence, corruption issues are being addressed, and the media is telling their stories.

It's still a long road ahead to achieve justice for those victimized by violence in this area, but at least those who thought they would never be heard (or even had the right to be heard), nor have a chance to pursue legal cases in the courts, are seeing changes and they are getting empowered and organized! You can visit Paz y Esperanza's website at www.pazyesperanza.org .


Colleen Beebe, Attorney at Law
Director of Education
The Advocates for Human Rights
650 South Third Avenue, Suite 550
Minneapolis, MN  55402

Another example pro-bono legal education

Thank you, Rex, for bringing up the responsibility of the legal community to educate the community - and thank you, Colleen, for sharing that great example of legal education in Peru!

I have another great example to add this thread. This tactic comes from Thailand. The Thongbai Thongpao Foundation (TTF) brings free legal assistance to rural residents, along with training on basic human rights and law for daily life.  Many rural communities in Thailand, as in many places, are have little awareness of their rights under Thai law. TTF implements training courses called 'Law to the Villages.'  The target audience is teachers, students, farmers, community leaders, and especially women. The course usually lasts one weekend and are requested by the community. They often include the use of theatre - dramatization of court cases.  An important aspect of completion of a course is the receipt of a photo id card:

Participants receive photo identity cards with the name and signature of their personal lawyer after completing the course. The back of each card lists the rights of suspects: the right to silence, to legal assistance, to know the charges against him or her and to post bail. After the program, a local paralegal committee is set up in the village consisting of five to seven people. The committee ensures human rights standards are followed and helps organize courses.

These cards remind the participants that there is someone that they can contact for legal assistance.  The card could also dissuade someone from violating a card-holder's rights if they know that someone is there to protect them. This tactic is one of many included in our tactics database. For more information on this tactic, click here.

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

pro bono plus

the examples coleen and Kristin give are worthwhile emulating.

both examples however lead us to another aspect of pro bono legal work and that is a pro bono lawyer is also an organizer.

we are also agitators, if not catalysts of change in community.  that is why lawyers are targetted by those who do not want the change.

that is why lawyers must also be for and with the people.  we tend to forget that there are many lawyers among the leaders of the world historically and currently - lincoln and fidel castro are lawyers.

in karapatan, we have organized the victims and/or their families.  we call the association of the families of the victims of enforced disappearances as desaparecidos, the families  of the extrajudicial killings as Hustisya (Justice), and those who were former political detainees as selda (jail cell).

nevertheless, i feel the example of Krstin if to be emulated must be considered with the cultural and poltiical matrix of society where it must be followed. in the philippines, it is a little difficult, because the society is polarized.  if karapatan or other people (not the government) will come in and organized the villages along these lines, the community will become a target of harassment and cooptation activities.  the protection that the card will do will lose its efficacy in front of the onslaught of the counter insurgency activities of the government/military.  their mindset is either you are for the government or you are for the other side sometimes called by them as terrorists.  sometimes the cards will become the evidence of your being on the other side.

there was even a town ordinance that require fact finding in their jurisdiction to have permits and must be under military supervision.

however, in the Philippines we organize the para legal volunteers into a kind of network.

it is also my vision to create a kind of college or learning institution for paralegal volunteers to advance their para legal training and education along the lines of a law school and with the vision also of asking the supreme court to credit the training for law diploma. 

Paralegals providing assistance under dangerous conditions

You raise a very important point in your comment - the dangerous conditions under which lawyers and paralegals are providing services to those whose rights have been trampled. By undertaking the provision of services, the lawyer/paralegal put themselves into a precarious and vulnerable position as well.

I would like to highlight one our tactical notebooks from Mexico that faces some of the challenges you have raised regarding security and danger in doing human rights work.

The tactic raised by the Chiapas Network of Community Defenders ( La Red de Defensores Comunitarios por los Derechos Humanos) proposes that victims and their communities become involved by electing their own defenders. The tactical notebook, Taking on Our Own Defense, presents a contextual framework that helps to understand the circumstances that gave rise to the process of the formation and development of the network itself. The actions of the Network of Community Defenders have created other interesting experiences in Chiapas for adapting the tactic. For example, a group of women’s rights defenders emerged from the community called "barefoot lawyers." 

I'm interested to hear how others are addressing the issue of security and protection of those who are providing legal services.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

it is quite an idea. but i

it is quite an idea. but i have a gut feel that somewhere someplace, it cannot withstand an attack by the military establishment or a government dedicated to stifle any dissent and to consider eveything in a counter-insurgency paradigm - you are with us or against us.  for that to work, you need a very organized, politicized or conscientized people.  and i know in my experience, that despite these qualifications, an organized group cannot face up a military intent to destroy a people's creation who thinks them subversive.

i would like to know how can i have materials on the creation of barefoot lawyers, and how it works and their experiences and their developments. 

i also do not know how these barefoot lawyers can interface with the formal legal system.

Barefoot lawyers


Regarding your question to seek more information about the "barefoot lawyers" and their interface with the formal legal system - please use this contact link to the Chiapas Network of Community Defenders website ( La Red de Defensores Comunitarios por los Derechos Humanos) where you will see the e-mail link to the organization. I noticed that their "English" link does not seem to work but the "Espanol" works just fine.

Chiapas has many contextual issues, problems and high rates of human rights abuses as you've also mentioned exist at this time in the Philippines - where people are targeted by both military and para-military groups. You are quite accurate in your assessment, the tactic was certainly developed to enhance the organizational and cohesive ability of people to respond to this kind of situation where they find themselves "under constant fire". I hope you have the chance to read the tactical notebook to see what kinds of ideas you might be able to adapt and apply to the Philippine context.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

organizing for human rights

i would really love to read all about chiapas and their human rights situation and works.  i would even like to visit and immerse with them to know the situation.  that is why i really need time to read the materials they have.  i know it can give me ideas and insights and better perspectives on organizing for human rights and trainings and education.

i have already tabbed their website and after this dialogue, i will open and communicate with them.  my spanish is not fluent although i can understand better than those who have 12 units of spanish.\

 anyway, nancy, gary king is a friend and he told me that you have been here in the philippines and sang with joey ayala.

thanks for everything and allowing me in this eye opening dialogue.




Organizing for human rights


It's great that you are so interested to have an exchange with Red Defensor in Chiapas. If you find they are also interested to exchange with you, you could apply for funds for such an exchange through the International Human Rights Internship Program (IHRIP) particularly with their Professional Development and Exchange Projects that provides resources for people like you to explore how you can learn from Red Defensor's work and they from your work in the Philippines. The IHRIP is a wonderful programs for human rights advocates, especially south-south initatives, for exchange. I encourage people to explore the IHRIP website information and contact them directly if you have any questions and wish to apply. Application forms are available in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Yes, I know Gary King - he created a great "new tactic" when he set up the Philippine Scholars organization to seek sponsors who could provide financial support to the children of human rights advocates who have been killed, disappeared, or imprisoned, leaving their families and children in situations of dire poverty and without access to education.

During my eight years living in the Philippines I had the incredible opportunity to perform with many amazingly talented, inspirational and generous musicians in the Philippines who have used their musical talents for social awareness and change efforts - to name a few wonderful friends, Joey Ayala, (who you mentioned) and also Gary Granada, Noel Cabangon who is in an article here featuring how his music is working for the environment and Greenpeace, and many others. 

Rex - I'm sorry our paths didn't cross while I was living there in the Philippines, but I'm glad we've had the chance to meet virtually! Padayon!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

an inquiry

How could we visit this dialogue?  i want to follow up on the tips and things raised here.

you use the word padayon which is my native tongue.  did you stay in a cebuano speaking area or mistakenly referred to as bisaya.  anyway that another thing to talk about.



Revisiting the online dialogues

Hi Rex,

Anyone is able to revisit this featured online dialogue, and all the previous online dialogues, by going to the Online Dialogues home page - http://www.newtactics.org/en/dialogues/home. Under the 'Archive of Featured Dialogues' section you will find all of our previous featured online dialogues. The URL for this dialogue will also stay the same (http://www.newtactics.org/en/blog/new-tactics/engaging-pro-bono-lawyers) so you can always bookmark it. We can consider this the beginning of a 'Pro-bono law in a box'! :)

Please continue to share updates and resource in this dialogue space! We would love to hear about how you and other online communit member has used these resources. 

Thank you for your great participation in this endeavor!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

---Developing partnerships and recruiting volunteers
  • What are some creative ways you have developed partnerships with law firms, universities, legal clinics, human rights organizations, private practice offices, etc?
  • What are the challenges you faced when developing these partnerships?
  • What resources do you use to understand and collect legal information from other countries for refugee and asylum cases?
  • What creative methods have you used to recruit pro-bono lawyers, volunteers and paralegals? How do you thank these volunteers for their services?
Engaging Lawyers and Law Firms

Advocates for International Development (A4ID) engages with lawyers through partnerships with law firms, barristers and legal academics ('Legal Partners') and through its individual members.

A4ID's Legal Partners are able to provide advice to organisations pursuing the UN Millennium Development Goals, in short, seeking to address global poverty. We have access to over 16,000 lawyers from around the world through our Legal Partners and this enables us to meet the needs of NGOs, social enterprises and developing country governments in the many and varied legal aspects of their work.

A4ID circulates pro bono opportunities to its Legal Partners every Monday. Opportunities range from desk based work - spending a couple of hours reviewing a contract or carrying out research - to several days spent in-country delivering training or conducting litigation. For more information, see http://www.a4id.org/legal-partners/introduction/default.aspx

Individuals with an interest in A4ID's work can become members. They have the right to vote for and stand as Trustees, can attend A4ID events and working groups, help to organise events and join in meetings with Development Partners, receive a weekly email with opportunities and information on international development and a quarterly newsletter. Further information can be found at:   http://www.a4id.org/members/default.aspx

Individual members act as coordinators of our Working Groups on Debt & Finance; Governance; Trade & Investment; and Development Rights.

These varied ways of involving lawyers tend to complement each other and allow those whose firms are not involved to still participate in and support the other aspects of our work.

Recruiting volunteers in the Philippines

In karapatan, volunteers come from the people's organizations who already have the dedication. rewards come from work done and the spirit of fellowship with the people you are working with.

In karapatan, we do not have much along the line of other countries asylum laws and procedures. Although, we have experiences but there is no built in system. i will be hearing from others.


Coordinating Large Pro Bono Projects

At the request of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), The Advocates for Human Rights has coordinated the work of the TRC in the diaspora. Since January 2007, The Advocates has documented statements from Liberians across the United States, the United Kingdom, and in the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana, West Africa.  The Advocates also coordinated the TRC's public hearings in the United States in June 2008 to document public testimony from Liberians in the U.S. diaspora.

The Liberian TRC Diaspora Project would not have been possible without the work of more than 600 volunteers who contributed more than $10 million in pro bono services to  the TRC.   A small staff team at the Advocates coordinated statement-taking projects in Atlanta, Boston/Providence, Chicago, London, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.   More than 40 law firms, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and Liberian community organizations were involved in the project.

A few of the tactics that we used to facilitate the administration of such a large pro bono project included:

  • each volunteer completed a standardized 9 hour training program, used the same statement taking protocol and forms, and entered the statements into a secure, web-based database (training materials and webcam training sessions are at http://liberiatrc.mnadvocates.org/Current_Volunteers.html );
  • in each project city, a law firm took the lead in providing coordination and administrative support for volunteers;
  • regular email contact and telephone conferences with pro bono leaders


Jennifer Prestholdt

Deputy Director, The Advocates for Human Rights

large pro bono project inquiry

how much would be the total cost of the said project?  where did the funds come fron?

reply to inquiry

The Liberian TRC Diaspora Project received no funds from the TRC or the Government of Liberia.   Instead, we funded the project with grants from several private foundations.  The annual cash budget was approximately $225,000 per year (although slightly higher last year because we brought the full TRC to the U.S. to preside over the Diaspora hearings).  Everything else was in-kind contributions, including all of the printing of training materials, technological support for the webcam training sessions/DVDs, film crew and court reporters for the public hearings, and the statement database which was built and maintained by a law firm.   

Jennifer Prestholdt

Deputy Director, The Advocates for Human Rights


that is a mouthful of help. how did you have this law firm help you?  were the partners friends or did they resonate with the project? and how did you create this network of friends?  what was it to them that they helped? 

Developments in Pro Bono in the US

Our organization has been around for 26 years, so we have long-established relationships with the local legal community.  In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the largest law firms had launched a new coordinated effort (the Minnesota Pro Bono Law Firm Summit) to enable them to take on larger pro bono projects.  The TRC Diaspora Project was one of the first projects they agreed to undertake and that made things easier for us.   In general, though, given our longstanding relationships with local law firms, we do not hesitate to make reasonable requests for assistance as we need it.   The firms can't always help, but often they appreciate it as it provides a way for non-legal staff, such as IT, administrative and library staff, to be involved in pro bono work.

We have worked with law firms and volunteers in other parts of the US before, but the TRC Project was the first time we have coordinated such a large scale pro bono project with so many firms in the U.S. and U.K.   We recruited some  of the law firms in other cities through personal contacts; others through branches of law firms we were already working with.   Then we were introduced to the local pro bono network in each city, which allowed us to recruit other law firms and volunteers. 

Pro bono in the US has really become more organized in the past 5-10 years.  Most large firms now have a Pro Bono Counsel as well as a Pro Bono Coordinator (who may not be a lawyer) and participate in the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge (law firms make a commitment to contribute approximately 5% of their billable hours to pro bono). There are also national organizations that provide support and training, such as the Pro Bono Institute.  www.probonoinst.org

Jennifer Prestholdt

Deputy Director, The Advocates for Human Rights


has pro bono work structural support in the US?

or rephrased, why do firms go into pro bono work?



Summer Associates at Law Firms

We have found that summer is a very good time to engage law firms through their summer associate program. Since law firms take on a number of law students for the summer, it's a great way to involve newer/incoming lawyers on a variety of projects.  Typically, we send out the pro bono project descriptions in May, with the expectation they will work on the projects throughout the summer and return them by August, if not sooner. This year, we distributed approximately 15 projects encompassing women's human rights, transitional justice, and education to various law firms.


what is transitional justice?  sorry for my ignorance.

Reports on promoting disability rights in Albania

I would like to share with you the recent initiative of ADRF in promoting the rights of girls and women with disability in Albania, first National Conference held in 26 May 2009 in Tirana Albania. In the links below please find a press release and a Study report on “How the human rights of girls and women with disability are respected in Albania”

- Entila

How do you engage pro-bono lawyers in disability rights?


I would be very interested to learn about how ADRF has been able to engage pro-bono lawyers in advancing disability rights.

Please share about the program that you direct regarding "Free legal Aid for people with disability and their family members.” Disability rights is an area of work that many people are not very familiar with and learning how you have engaged pro-bono lawyers in assisting you in your work would be very interesting and helpful.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

  • How do you train lawyers on the importance of providing pro-bono legal services?  How do you address misconceptions about poverty and the importance of pro-bono service to the legal community?
  • What resources do you use to train lawyers and volunteer in providing pro-bono legal services? What challenges do you face?
Lawyers come from supporters, no training system

In Karapatan we do not have any system for lawyers training.  most of the time, lawyers who help in Karapatan come from volunteers or from the peoples organizations who have already in them the spirit of helping people.  


The importance of training

I think training pro bono attorneys is crucial and an important part of the overall recruitment, retention and rendering of professional services in any pro bono program.

Let me give you an example. I was training a group of lawyers in Ecuador who were from all over Latin America, many of whom were in private practice, some of whom provided legal aid. My goal was to introduce what pro bono was; inform private practice lawyers about the importance of providing pro bono services to disadvantaged/low-income persons; why it is our obligation as legal practitioners to do so; and how to do it effectively and zealously.

In the course of the training one lawyer said, "of course since they are poor we don't have to provide as much or as good a service to them, so it shouldn't be a problem." Well, this comment did cause some uproar among some of the attendees, but it's not an uncommon attitude in the profession. Another lawyer responded, "Well, I think we need to provide even better services to indigent clients because they have fewer, if any other, options for legal help."

The bottom line is, we will be recruiting/talking to people in the legal profession who have little, if no idea how to work with folks from other socio/economic backgrounds. So, any training program must provide a training component on working with folks who come from different backgrounds (i.e. not to treat clients paternalistically,  disrespectfully or as if you are doing them a favor or expect something in return, etc.). Then, in any program we need to monitor how clients are treated (i.e. client satisfaction surveys or something like) and be able to vet out persons who just shouldn't represent others in these situations.


Colleen Beebe, Attorney at Law
Director of Education
The Advocates for Human Rights
650 South Third Avenue, Suite 550
Minneapolis, MN  55402

Why Pro bono training is important

I totally agree on the importance of training as Colleen states. In Zimbabwe the attitude among some private practice law firms was also to render substandard services in pro bono cases. Training would help underline the importance of access to quality legal representation by indigents. The philosophical, moral and ethical basis of pro bono work also require greater emphasis. l am sure more lawyers would come forward and volunteer to assist if they are clear on the vision and objectives of pro bono work. 

Dewa Mavhinga

Cyrus R. Vance Institute

 You may want to check out this program. Apparently the Cyrus R. Vance Center of the New York City Bar Association promote pro bono training/programs around the world. I came across them in my internet searches when I was preparing a training and found their materials very useful. The website is at: http://www.nycbar.org/citybarjusticecenter/vancecenter-overview/ 

 It's been a great pleasure to dialogue with all of you! Thank you for the privilege!

Colleen Beebe, Attorney at Law
Director of Education
The Advocates for Human Rights
650 South Third Avenue, Suite 550
Minneapolis, MN  55402

VanceNet.org - online community of advocates of pro-bono work

Thank you, Colleen for sharing the website resource for training material.

While looking at this website, I found that the Vance Center has developed a resource called VanceNet.org. It is a global online community for lawyers, scholars and others supporting access to justice:

VanceNet, which was created and is administered by the Vance Center, is
an online community of lawyers and other advocates around the world
seeking to share information and ideas regarding ways of expanding
access to justice and transforming the legal profession and legal
systems to make them more responsive to societal needs.  The site
includes a blog that reports on recent news events and legal
developments and discussion groups that allows registered members to
exchange information and ideas, share resources, collaborate on
projects, and obtain answers to questions in areas in which other
members have expertise.  Finally, VanceNet contains a searchable
directory that enables members to contact other members with similar
interests.  Lawyers, scholars, advocates, and others interested in
issues relating to access to justice are encouraged to become active
participants in VanceNet.org by registering at www.VanceNet.org.

Is anyone a member of this online community and can share how they have utilized this resource? Being able to share resources, experiences, etc online is a great way to strengthen you work and keep you invigorated (at least, this is what we've found here in the New Tactics online community!). I am very pleased to see that this specialized online community exists for advocates like you!

I have researched and bookmarked several website resources that you might find interesting, in addition to VanceNet.org. You can find these bookmarks here - http://delicious.com/newtactics/pro-bono.  

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

I agree with both Colleen

I agree with both Colleen and Dewa on the importance of pro bono training.  

I used to run a project - the Media Lawyers Network (which Nyaradzo was a trustee of).  It is easier to discuss issues of how best clients should be represented with a group of lawyers who are either members of a group of common interest or who associate with the cause.  Once lawyers understand the cause and associate themselves fully to the extent of becoming members of such a group, then normally the issue of payment is secondary.  As members of the MLN, they understood that they could not bill in terms of the Law Society Tariff but payment would be limited to covering basic expenses up to a certain limit.  Of course it becomes problematic if you have a case which drags on and takes most of the lawyer's time in which case certain concessions might have to be made to pay for some of the time.

The other advantage of a network which meets occasionally is the sharing of legal tips.  We found it useful as members of the network were always up to date with developments in media law issues.

There are lawyers who believe that they do not need any training.  For such lawyers, one can try to send newsletters, emails or bulletens with new tactics in defence with the hope that they can be read. 

Wilbert P. Mandinde

lawyers who feel they do not need training


you gave me a brilliant way of getting in touch with lawyers to seduce them to become pro bono lawyers.  that is by the newsletters, emails or bulletins you mentioned.

i will try to talk with my organization in using this to get in touch with lawyers.

thank you. 


rex Also I consider


Also I consider really important training pro bono Lawyers. During 2007 we have had such a similar experience in Albania. NGO that I am working realized a 2 day training in 6 region of Albania, where around 85 Lawyers have gain information about disability issue but also that have been aware about the necessary of providing legal advice to peoples in need and specially peoples with disability.

Some of the participants emphasized that involving in a case and giving the appropriate law expertise take a lot of time, so they looked really difficult providing free of charge legal assistance to the peoples in need. The only solution it is establishment of appropriate mechanism in legal framework in order to engage Lawyers in pro bono initiative.

Actually in Albania doesn’t exist such a law or even the information about it. Also lack of trainings or awareness in this filed is missing, so it needed to be done more in it.





Training Resources

When we train volunteers to take asylum cases, participate in overseas fact-finding missions, or other kinds of direct services,  we try to provide both in-person training and written resource materials.  For many volunteers, this kind of support is crucial to making them comfortable enough to take on a pro bono matter in a new area of law.

The live training involves both international human rights law and more practical "how to" information.   When possible we try to do a "mock" interview or hearing.  We often conduct the trainings at law firms, which can provide technological capabilities beyond what we can as an NGO.  As a result, we have been able to offer volunteers DVDs of trainings and archived webcam training sessions.  We are hoping to start doing podcasts in the near future as well.

The written resources are often quite lengthy.  Again, they offer both substantive human rights law along with more practical instructions and sample forms, etc.  Volunteers often report that they consult the training materials repeatedly during the course of their pro bono commitment. 

Jennifer Prestholdt

Deputy Director, The Advocates for Human Rights


are the training materials for share?

Reigning in the Generosity of Pro Bono Attorneys?

Some of our volunteer lawyers services above and beyond legal services.  We have had attorneys give their clients cell phones, help them move into new apartments, give them furniture, clothes, food, take them to dinner, or host them for meals within their own homes.  Our mental health and health service providers have strict boundary rules.  Our legal departmeny relies, instead, on rules that govern professional conduct for lawyers.  I would be interested to hear if other organizations have boundary rules, or if you do not.  Please let me know.

Regina Germain, Legal Director, Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, Denver CO USA    

boundaries of generosity of probono lawyers

I found it a surprise that generosity has become a concern.  Although, i understand the danger involved in such generosity relevant to ethical considerations, however, it is not a problem here in the philippines as lawyers although belonging to the 15 percent above incomed persons, do not have that luxury of giving to pro bono clients, although sometimes, they give food, and fare during court hearings. sometimes, temporary sanctuary.  there is already a boundary set up by the income of pro bono lawyers.  i would love to see the day a three suited lawyer become a pro bono lawyer in the Philippines   Then he can give as much as he can.

anyway, there is a tendency for care providers whether health or legal to have the florence nithingale syndrom.  for legal care providers, the only boundary would be losing one's objectivity in handling the case.


Here in the United States, many lawyers, especially from large firms, are accustomed to giving clients tickets to sporting events, meals, and other gifts in order to retain the client. I think that mindset transfers over to their pro bono clients.

Regina Germain, Legal Director, Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, Denver

a two-pronged approach and thank you

The IPB trains its volunteer attorneys in the intricacies of third sector law (aka NGO law) so that they have the legal tools to provide legal assistance to the NGOs in need. In addition to the training, they are provided with a set of materials to which they can refer when questions arise.

In addition, the IPB conducts workshops directly for community leaders living in underprivileged communities who hope to advance their cause by forming a non-governmental organization. By teaching these activists about the laws governing the formation of an NGO, the IPB seeks to empower them to mobilize their supporters and articulate their policy goals with greater force. The idea is to help them maximize their organizational efficacy.

It has been a real privilege to learn from all of you. I wish you all the very best in your pro bono endeavors and hope that we can continue exchanging ideas and strategies for a long time to come.

Eric Lockwood, Instituto Pro Bono
São Paulo, Brazil

---Security issues and self-care
  • How do you train your pro-bono lawyers and volunteers on the security risks?
  • Do you implement ‘Quick-response’ or ‘first-aid’ units? If so, how do you secure the safety of the staff? What other challenges do you face?
  • How do you cope with the stress and secondary trauma of this work?
  • How do you assist the pro-bono lawyers and volunteers in caring for themselves?
Managing a 'quick-response' unit


Before joining Lawyers for Human Rights, I worked as a lawyer in private practice for 6 years. Although it was always very busy, I on the whole enjoyed the challenge of my work. It felt good  to win a case and make lots of money at the same time, kind of a double bonus. The few sad moments were when a client who had been really treated unfairly could not raise legal fees. No matter how good the facts of the client's case were, the golden rule was that you simply do not touch a case before a client paid. The only exception were the pro bono murder trials which the Attorney-General's office dumped on our laps, but then those cases had so much at stake that the thrill of success would be greater than any payment. My boss loved them for the publicity that they attracted to the firm. I did feel guilty on the occasions when I had to turn away a client with a genuine problem but I always quickly got over it. Private practice has always been about the bottom line,hasn't it?

As time went on though, I became restless and felt that I could do something more with my life and my legal talent than chase after some clients with fat pockets. I felt that there was more value in working with the poor and the marginalised clients whose rights are daily trampled upon. I started involving myself in human rights work on a small scale whilst in private practice, with the unique advantage of being able to collect legal fees from my paying clients and choosing when to assist needy clients. This could not be for long since you really can not mix the different sets of values involved-making money on one hand and serving the community on the other.

When I jumped ship to be full time in pro bono human rights work I discovered that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Now I must do with minimum support staff, limited funds and an endless stream of clients. I get all sorts, the genuine with real problems and those who simply want to manipulate me. The worst kind of client is the one who wants to collude with me or worse still, to cheat me into helping them to cheat the system legal. Invariably, all demand to be attended immediately. The gretest dilemna is how to discern the truth from the fabrications so that you do not play to some trickery games and at the same time you do not summarily dismiss all cases as dubious when you really need to quickly assist the client. All are at various levels of trauma, from the country of origin, from frustration with the South African Department of Home Affairs, with UNHCR or with everything. You get called names and you are threatened with harm by the very person that you intend to help. You are sometimes tempted to scream back at them,forget all professional etiquette!

At our office we have a strict appointment system but usually you get at least three clients in a day claiming absolute emergencies just to get their way into my office. The results? Long hours, skipping meals (not to talk of teas served in the boardroom 6metres away from my office twice a day), huge backlog resulting on many working weekends. Sometimes, support staff who think that as long as you do not have a client sitting in your office, you are not busy compound your problems. And you are still expected to treat each and every client courteously and deliver timeously on their matter. Not that anyone really chases up after me but I am used to the culture of effiient service delivery, so I have sleepless nights if I can not bring my work up to date.

What is my remedy? I dermacate my territory clearly,my office is mine. Once you are inside it, you are subject to my rules. For example, I insist on seeing an appointment slip before starting the consultation. Secondly, I insist on a basic data registration form being filled in by or for each client before they come in. This gives me an idea of what their issues are. With such foreknowledge, I make it clear at the start of each interview how long it will be and empasise to the client the need to make good use of their time. They must get straight to the point and also avoid unnecessary distractions like answering their cell phones whilst in consultation with me. It also encourages them to tell the truth at the first go (which is otherwise very unlikely) knowing that there will be no time to panel-beat the story. Of course it remains in my discretion to extend the consultation as necessary but it is important for my client to believe that I will stick to the time.

Once I have taken full instructions, I usually deal with the issue immediately if possible but sometimes I need to reschedule the appointment in order to work on things that take more time. Apart from this, I keep my colleagues including the receptionist and other support staff, informed on my planned schedule and I try as much as possible to stick to my diary. I don't usually entertain clients who meet me at the reception or in the corridor and try to 'steal' some consultation time. All emergencies are screened and referred by the receptionist. This was getting quite heavy on our receptionist and we have recently recommended the appointment of an intern to operate a helpdesk in the reception area,where the cases are screened. She starts work next week and we really hope that this will impove our performance as clients will not wait too long only to be told that we can not handle their matter inside the lawyer's office. This saves a lot of time for both the client and us.

Whenever I need help from colleague or other people I ask for it. Above all I take time to reflect on my work to check whether it is still progressive. Sometimes you need time just to stare at your office wall.

I now feel that I am making a huge difference to my clients' lives. For those who are also doing something that they feel is worthwhile, please set rules and also take care of yourself. If you do not you may end up very bitter and frustrated about your work . Then you will become part of the problem to your clients. In this part of the world  where I leave one does not just see a lawyer unless they have a real stressor and they consequently demand immediate attention and on their terms. We are responsible to ensure the top quality of our service hence the control of our work remains our priority.

good luck!








New Tactics wrote:

  • How do you train your pro-bono lawyers and volunteers on the security risks?
  • Do you implement ‘Quick-response’ or ‘first-aid’ units? If so, how do you secure the safety of the staff? What other challenges do you face?
  • How do you cope with the stress and secondary trauma of this work?
  • How do you assist the pro-bono lawyers and volunteers in caring for themselves?

Nyaradzo Muzah

Lawyers for Human Rights



Re: Managing a 'quick-response' unit

Thank you, Nyaradzo, for sharing the ways that you've been able to manage your very busy schedule being a pro-bono lawyer.  I really like your idea of utilizing interns (or other volunteers) to help you and the receptionist to document, organize and assist in the process. I can imagine that would be a huge help. I would bet that others participating in this dialogue use volunteers for this type of work.

I am curious to know more about your 'quick-response' unit. Do all of your clients come to your office or is this 'quick-response unit' mobile? 

How do the lawyers and other staff in your office practice self-care? Do you have a time each week, for example, to debrief your cases? 

Thank you!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Security issues and self-care

Security issues are very important and sensitive issues.

For some of us who have worked with ascertainable clients, it is important to always train them in securing themselves.  Journalists are a funny lot, adventureous (maybe the profession demands that) but quite risky as well.

It is important to always tell such clients to avoid trouble.  Where it is unavoidable, to ensure that at least someone is aware of where s/he is.  The most frustrating thing is to be told that a person has been arrested but you do not know from where. Again clients such as journalists can have a template in their cellphones written arrested at ....which they can immediately send to a friend or relative who then gets in touch with lawyers.

Clients needs also to be advised to alert their close relatives or friends whom they will probably contact in the event of arrest of who their lawyers are as well as the contact details for the lawyers. Betterstill if the clients can just dispatch the template message to the lawyers.

At certain police stations it is not advisable for a lawyer to venture there alone.  There is always security and comfort in numbers.  So it is advisable to go with another lawyer, especially where one anticipates a hostile police reception.

Wilbert P. Mandinde
LLM (International Human Rights Law) Candidate
School of Law - University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park
Essex CO4 4SQ
Tel +447717353660

Security issues, mobile phones, and unarmed accompaniment

Thank you, Wilbert, for sharing the ways that pro-bono lawyers have addressed security issues.  It is great that the lawyers are putting so much emphasis on the security of their clients.  I was expecting to hear about ways that pro-bono lawyers are addressing their OWN security issues, but you have brought up the equally important issue of protecting the CLIENTS.

Adding a template to your clients' mobile phones to tell a lawyer or relative when he/she is arrested, is a great tactic!  New Tactics has previously hosted a featured online dialogue on Using Mobile Phones for Action, but there was not a lot of discussion on using mobile phones for security purposes - alerting people of arrests, etc.

You mention that you try to have a lawyer accompany another lawyer going to a police station - as there is "always security and comfort in numbers." This is another great use of a tactic that has been discussed in a previous featured dialogue on Unarmed Accompaniment. There are organizations that provide this service - and if such an organization is working in your region, it would be worth making that connection and possibly a partnership. These unarmed accompaniers could accompany the pro-bono lawyers to places like police stations, and could also accompany clients. It is a very powerful and successful tactic! For more information on this tactic, read the in-depth case study - Side by Side: Protecting and encouraging threatened activists with unarmed international accompaniment

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

security issues and pro bono work

this is related to the issue of pro bono work. 

As stated, pro bono work is legal work with a stance or that coupled with an advocacy.  my advocacy is human rights and i do pro bono work with human rights whcih include the whole spectrum of human rights - informal settlers included, right to food and environmental rights.

human rights work in the philippines reeks with danger and when you are arrested, you do not have the right to a mobile phone.  it is taken from you and never returned.  much more when you are abducted, when everything is taken from you.  state sponsored robbery which is in a way a form of taxation.

a human rights lawyer in the Philippines is almost always a dead man walking or listed in the order of battle.  because human rights work in the philippines is always connected by the state with their counter insurgency.  in fact, the government has created an agency to do legal counter insurgency work.  or the use of legal suits and actions as a counter insurgency measure.  pending now are cases against doctors and lawyers for murder, arson just to harass them with their advocacies.

i just dismissed a case against me in a court filed by a brother of a governor of a province.

however, it is impractical to use a template in a mobile phone because it will be taken except if you know how to hide it well.

it is impractical in the philippines to bring another lawyer to the police station because there are not much lawyers here.  however, what we do is we bring a para legal worker with us.


Security training guide and quick response procedure

In karapatan, we have a para legal training seminar and part of that seminar is a kind of guide culled from experience of what to do when faced with a security threat.  they are also asked to leave a kind of communication parameters to people who are close to them. 

Regional offices and the national office have a quick response procedure.  when a report is made of a loss or a threat, documentation is made at first level and a team of para legals are organized with a lawyer sometimes accompanying but always there is a lawyer on standby for more serious discussions.

The qrt's are equipped to do further documentation work.  and they make reports.  the qrts usually then send out urgent action messages to the outside world.



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