Pro bono gets techd up and serious

Date: 03 Nov 2006


Pro bono used to be – and sometimes still is – the ‘please go away’ element of a law firms dutiful life and concerns. Full equity partners, not keen to spend their wedge unnecessarily, are
understandably stingy when it comes to splashing out on support for it. But like all things, pro bono times are a changing – particularly when someone like the American Lawyer Group gets
behind it and starts throwing some weight around. The fabulous profit per partner lists now include weighting for firms who excel at pro bono work – so more pro bono – more points. A few senior partners will have choked on their cornflakes when that happened. That means the once commercially unimportant area is now a way to beat your rivals to the hottest spots on the
unforgiving profit charts.

The people

The Executive Director of Pro Bono Net is Mark O’Brien and Adam Licht is Director of Product
Management. Mark O’Brien is the co founder and Executive Director of Pro Bono Net. Prior to Pro Bono Net, Mark was the Pro Bono Coordinator at Davis Polk & Wardwell. Adam Licht joined Pro Bono Net in April 2006 as Director of Product Management. Previously at RR Donnelley, CCH Legal Information Services, A Wolters Kluwer Company and Net

The funding

The new Law Firm Service product is funded by the Gates Foundation and supported with Microsoft software. Although the Gates Foundation funded the project, they didn’t make any requirements about using their software. This was left to the management team to decide on. After all the beauty parades were done (they did a three month review of IBM WebSphere/BEA AquaLogic and Microsoft SharePoint), Microsoft SharePoint came out tops. Pro Bono net also chose XMLAW who provide SharePoint-based products and services to law firms implementing intranets and extranets.

The article

Gaps in the market aren’t always easy to spot but some people are ahead of the game. Apple knocked us out with their now super famous iPod, as did BlackBerry ® with their mini-email-friend. How did life exist before we wonder?

Pro Bono Net, seem to be working along the same lines. They are developing a portal and
knowledge management tool which will allow pro bono to get some serious techi-tude. Launched in February 07 the new software has a commercial approach. It aims to pull together, in one interface, a user friendly pro bono portal, which will interest professionals in projects
that come up and have profiles of lawyers and attorneys preferences for work.

For pro bono coordinaters there will be ways to target and email particular lawyers with requests and a portal of information for everyone to refer to, and build upon. Designed to be an
extension of your firms intranet The Law Firm Service can be customized to conform to firms branding.

It will integrate data from two main sources: information from the legal community, news from the Pro Bono Net system, and data from the law. So why is it ground breaking? Well many law
firms are managing their pro bono haphazardly and dealing with it as and when they have to. It seems the top end law firms are doing very nicely with their own pro bono systems but
everyone else is fighting fires. This project will allow public authorities, pro bono co-coordinators and lawyers or attorneys to go to one central place, using the notoriously easy interface from SharePoint.

Of course, there are many challenges for pro bono, amongst which is building interest and support internally in firms. This should start to get easier as this software develops.

Pro Bono Net has built in a reporting system to all the major associations who report on pro bono work to feed them automatic updates. So firms may soon find themselves on very unpleasant ranking charts showing that they are not fulfilling ethical obligations. A surefire way to get the interest of law firm management. The Law Firm Service software by Pro Bono Net is
available on license.

Points to note.

*American Lawyer now gives ‘double ratings’ for pro bono work on their profit per partner charts. Sure it won’t take long for publications in the UK to catch on, if they haven’t already.

*Top firms in the USA now report once a year to the Probono Institute about their progress

*IT partners interviewed were BEA AquaLogic, Microsoft SharePoint and IBM WebSphere. Microsoft. SharePoint got the deal. Pro Bono Net are also using XMLAW to help knit the project software together.

*There are three areas of functionality

– Reporting
– Research/KM/Content
– Sort and manage – making the connection between lawyer or attorney wanting particular types of pro bono work and the organizations who need the legal help.


Building your law firm brand with high profile cases. Helps training with lawyers and attorneys. They can get proper in-the-field training rather than doing the tea or photocopying. It helps law firms give something back to the community. Helps with staff retention if they can pick and choose more interesting pro bono work.

++ Law Firm Service by includes

Volunteer opportunities (including external and internal listings)

News (including external and internal news)

Pro Bono Questionnaire to record and store individual lawyer areas of interest, experience
and availability

Pro Bono Case Docket to provide an overview of active cases (by office, department, type of
case, referring organization, team member, etc.), including case description, library of precedents and scheduled activity.

Library (including internal and external resources)

Email tools for pro bono coordinators

Pro Bono Net’s Law Firm Service is aimed at top 200 firms and the project is global.

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