On May 27th, Tiela Chalmers, newly appointed CEO of the Alameda County Bar Association and member of the Pro Bono Net Board of Directors, will lead a webinar / seminar through the Practising Law Institute (PLI) on “How to Find and Handle Your First Pro Bono Case.” I spoke with Tiela last week to get a preview of the program. Whether you just graduated from law school or have been practicing for years, the program will be an excellent opportunity to discover the pro bono field and find ways to get involved! We would like to thank PLI for championing the need for pro bono as one of Pro Bono Net’s Bronze Sponsors since 2011. Through their sponsorship of Pro Bono Net and consistent presentation of pro bono programs, PLI has demonstrated outstanding dedication to providing attorneys with information and techniques to develop a powerful and effective pro bono practice and use their legal skills to give back to their communities.
Pro Bono Net: Can you briefly tell us about the overall purpose of your upcoming PLI program?
Tiela Chalmers: Our goal is to offer people who are just starting to look into pro bono, whether they are new attorneys or people who haven’t considered it before, a chance to get an overview of how to go about doing it and how to become involved. And then, assuming they do volunteer, we’ll go over some things they should keep in mind as they start out.
PBN: Why is it important for lawyers to do pro bono work?
TC: We will talk about this a lot in the session. There is a multiplicity of reasons to do pro bono; all of them are good reasons. There is certainly the opportunity to “do good” and make a difference. So many lawyers went to law school wanting to make a difference and having a law license really gives you a unique opportunity to make a difference in a way that others can’t. There are also more self-focused reasons to do pro bono. It’s a great way to get experience – pro bono allows you to handle a case from start to finish in a way that you don’t get to do starting out at most large firms. It’s also a chance to get to know the judges and lawyers in your community and become known as someone who gives back and contributes to the community. It shows people that you care about the place that you live.
PBN: What is the largest barrier to starting pro bono work?
TC: It’s a combination of time and not knowing where to start. Part of the goal of the session is to give people ways to overcome both those barriers. The session will point out that there’s a lot of value to be had – even though you will be busy, it will help you advance yourself professionally. We will also talk about limited scope representation and some other ideas on how to get experience without a significant time investment. In terms of knowing where to start, we will discuss how to figure out what to do and how to find a good opportunity.
PBN: Is there anything else you would like to share about the program?
TC: When we’ve done the program in the past, people have found it useful whether they were truly brand new or just attorneys looking for ways to build professional development. We hope to get a wide spectrum of people, we had a few hundred nationally in the past and I understand registration has already reached that point for this year.
Be sure to sign up for the “How to Handle Your First Pro Bono Case 2014” webinar or seminar. The free webcast will begin at 9:00 AM Pacific (12:00 PM Eastern), or attend in person in San Francisco!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.