Journal of Leadership and the Law

Pro Bono Program Inventory: Partnering With The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center

Reflecting on the Project’s Contribution to the Aims of the Leadership Fellows Program

By Ragan Riddle L'May'17 and Jason Pruett L'May'17

As part of their Leadership Fellows Capstone Project, Jason Pruett and Ragan Riddle partnered with the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, an organization created and overseen by the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission.  The focus of their project was to examine the current state of pro bono work in North Carolina, particularly in the context of law firms, and to research potential tools that could be used to enhance the pro bono work in North Carolina.  Together with their advisors from the Pro Bono Resource center, Sylvia Novinsky, Director of the Resource Center, and Jared Smith, Programming and Engagement Associate, Pruett and Riddle developed a three phase project plan: (1) research the primary pro bono program models across the country, (2) develop a statewide inventory of current pro bono practices in various law firms in North Carolina, and (3) create an attorney survey instrument that could be used to assess attorneys’ perception of their individual law firm’s pro bono programs, as well as how they feel the Pro Bono Resource Center could assist them in performing pro bono work.

The goal of Pruett and Riddle’s capstone project was to provide the Resource Center with information regarding how they can assist law firms in reaching Rule 6.1 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional conduct, which provides an aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono work per North Carolina licensed attorney.  The hope is that with all three phases of the project completed, the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center will have baseline knowledge of pro bono models available to a variety of law firms, an inventory of current pro bono practices in North Carolina law firms, and a tool that the Resource Center can use to gather more information from law firms.

On January 12, 2017, Pruett and Riddle presented the findings from their Project to some of the state’s top legal leaders at a North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission led by the Hon. Mark Martin, Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Now that Pruett and Riddle have completed their capstone project, the next step is for the Pro Bono Resource Center, with the help of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice to Commission, to distribute the survey to the individuals with whom they have relationships, as well as to other attorneys/individuals that are identified as willing to provide candid information about their firm or organization’s current pro bono practices.

The Pro Bono Resource Center now has a baseline of information; moving forward, it simply will have to utilize the information to identify specific features and provide information to various key law firms and organizations within the state.  By utilizing this research and being strategic in engaging the firms/organizations with whom it works, it will essentially create a “pilot class” of firms/organizations who buy into the vision of having a pro bono-friendly culture within their firm/organization.  With more institutions on board, the Pro Bono Resource Center will be able to use its resources to reach out to other firms, and rely on the aforementioned existing firms and organizations to set the tone for and encourage other firms and organizations to adopt a similar model.  As this culture becomes “commonplace” throughout the state, the Pro Bono Resource Center will be able to effectuate the changes it was created to implement in the state of North Carolina.