The legal profession, its associations, firms, and law schools have spent years and considerable money encouraging lawyers to do more pro bono work. A study by University at Buffalo sociologist Robert Granfield concludes, however, that mandatory law school programs, bar association campaigns, and goodwill are not the principle spurs provoking lawyers to work for the public good.
In a study published earlier this year in the journal Law & Society Review, Granfield says these inclinations may be influenced more greatly by the expectations, pressures, incentives, and preferences rooted in the firms for which they work.
The study The Meaning of Pro Bono: Institutional Variations in Professional Obligation, used analyzed data obtained from 474 attorneys who graduated from three law schools, all of which had mandatory pro bono programs, in the northeastern, western, and southern U.S.
Granfield says that while, in general, participants in mandatory law school programs value pro bono work more than those not involved in them and believe it has a positive impact on them, such experiences might not lead to greater investment in such work.
Previous research has indicated that the recent burgeoning interest in pro bono work doesnt necessarily arise from the goodness of a practitioners heart, but is a response to conditions external to them. Granfield goes further, finding that the settings within which lawyers practice make possible certain strategic decisions about lawyering for social justice while foreclosing others.
He says, Different communities of practice in the legal professionsmall firms, large firms, solo practice, for instanceproduce variations in professional identity and consciousness, some of which support pro bono work and some of which do not, and these influence the pro bono attitudes of members of the community in question.
Granfield studied the impact of a number of variables on respondents attitude toward pro bono work in general, their motivations for performing it and the benefits they saw in it. The findings point to the significance of practice setting.
Small law firms or solo practices are constrained by limited resources and are significantly less supportive of mandatory pro bono proposals in the profession.
Lawyers working as in-house counsel are significantly less likely to engage in volunteer work in general and are significantly less supportive of pro bono.
Some attorneys in large firms are motivated by the desire to have greater autonomy over cases, work directly with clients, and reduce their sense of alienation. Others are motivated by a particular ideology or a desire to gain personal satisfaction. Still others do pro bono work to satisfy professional obligations or to mirror the attitudes of those around them.
Sex and race entered into the equation as well. Women respondents were significantly more likely than men to endorse mandatory pro bono programs, to value such work, to believe it allows them to give something back to their community, and to say that performing it increases their satisfaction in being an attorney.
Non-white respondents tended to regard pro bono as a way to give something back to their community. They were less likely to believe that too much emphasis is placed on pro bono.
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