This chapter deals with planning and conducting an evaluation of a firm’s pro bono program. It discusses:
- what evaluation is and why it is important in the pro bono context;
- planning an evaluation process;
- how to decide what to evaluate; and
- collecting data, including utilising the firm’s existing record-keeping systems.
- 1.13.1 What is evaluation & why is it important?
- 1.13.2 Planning an evaluation
- 1.13.3 Collecting data
1.13.1 WHAT IS EVALUATION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Evaluation is a systematic process of collecting and analysing data to objectively assess the success of a project or program in meeting its strategic objectives.
Self-evaluation of a law firm pro bono program, project or matter can be used to demonstrate the value of a firm’s pro bono program in relation to a wide range of factors including supporting the firm’s strategy, promoting its values, creating positive brand recognition amongst clients, supporting recruitment and retention strategies, increasing morale within the firm, and social impact.
An evaluation can be tailored to the individual needs of a firm, and may relate to a firm’s entire pro bono practice, or to individual projects and matters. In this way, evaluation is not about using any single tool, but rather an approach that can be adapted and implemented depending upon the unique requirements of a firm and its pro bono program. Evaluating a pro bono program also supports the accountability of the program, helps to communicate and promote the program, and informs strategic thinking.
This section discusses the ways in which self-evaluation processes can be effectively used to the benefit of a firm’s pro bono program.
TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE
An evaluation can demonstrate the pro bono leader’s accountability to the firm as regards the pro bono program. In some circumstances, the firm may participate in an external evaluation that demonstrates a community partner’s accountability for public funds.
In the context of increasing commercial pressure to demonstrate the efficient delivery of results, an evaluation process generates evidence that demonstrates how the firm’s resources were effectively used to achieve the pro bono program’s objectives or strategic plan.1 In this way, an evaluation can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the efficiency of the pro bono program.
Given that pro bono legal work should always be performed to the same high standard as all other work in the firm, compliance with this standard should be monitored and evaluated. As with commercial matters, systems should also be in place to ensure that pro bono legal work is properly supervised.
Given the voluntary nature of pro bono legal work, the private profession is not compelled to evaluate its pro bono programs and projects in the same way as publicly-funded legal assistance schemes.2 However, there may be circumstances when a firm participates in a public evaluation, including when it is working with a publically-funded body or taking part in a pilot scheme, such as occurred with the Sexual Assault Communications Privilege Pro Bono Scheme in NSW (2010-2011).
Many firms are involved in pro bono partnerships with community legal centres and other publicly funded legal assistance services that are subject to increasing requirements to evaluate their services as part of their funding arrangements. It may be helpful to these community organisations for their partner firms to engage in sound evaluation practices. For example, when DLA Piper and the Hobart Community Legal Service (HCLS) collaborated on the Centre’s National Broadband Network Regional Legal Assistance Program pilot video-conferencing project the data collected by DLA Piper was utilised by HCLS as part of its own reporting obligations.
TO DEMONSTRATE VALUE
The data collected, analysed and presented during an evaluation process can provide a sophisticated and compelling way of demonstrating the value of a pro bono program, project or matter to a firm’s internal and external stakeholders. In this way an evaluation can:
- support the business case for pro bono to help build support for the pro bono program within the firm;
- align the program with the firm’s strategic direction, supporting the firm’s current client and/or industry focus: for example, showing that a program helps to fulfil the firm’s pro bono obligations as a LSMUL or Victorian Government Legal Services Panel firm, or that the firm’s pro bono contributions and commitment to the community help to meet corporate client expectations;
- support the firm’s operational strategy: for example by showing that pro bono opportunities provided to staff support the firm’s professional development and staff retention strategies, or by demonstrating the firm’s pro bono culture for recruitment and training purposes;
- promote the firm’s values by demonstrating its pro bono culture: for example, providing stories and statistics that can be used in the firm’s public relations, marketing, and communication activities;
- promote the pro bono practice to the pro bono community including referral organisations; and
- enable the firm to participate in the pro bono community by responding accurately to surveys on pro bono such as the National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey or the periodic Australian Bureau of Statistics survey of legal practices.
Knowing whether pro bono efforts have achieved their goals, and if not, why not, informs future efforts to make the best use of the limited resources available to be invested in pro bono programs, projects and individual matters. The lessons learned from an evaluation inform decision-makers about how to build on or improve the firm’s pro bono program in the future. It can also provide insights into how the program can contribute to meeting the broader strategic business goals of the firm.
The real value of evaluation is not limited to findings and recommendations in an evaluation report. The evaluation process is an approach to thinking and learning about what the pro bono legal work of the firm aims to achieve and to planning how to achieve it. The process of evaluation as a strategic planning tool can therefore be just as important as the results.
1.13.2 PLANNING AN EVALUATION
Evaluation is about measuring success against pre-identified objectives. Planning the evaluation at the beginning of the project or program helps the pro bono coordinator and program participants to focus on the objectives of the program, ‘plan for success’ and measure success against the objectives. At a practical level, it also allows the pro bono coordinator to set up any extra record-keeping systems that may be required to provide data for the evaluation.3
The following checklist may assist in planning an evaluation process:
- Decide upon the target audience/s of the evaluation (for example, internal stakeholders such as the current staff of the firm; partners, board members or management of the firm; external stakeholders such as community partners, PBROs or the legal assistance sector).
- Decide upon the scope of the evaluation (for example, whether it covers a single project or an entire program). 4
- Decide what to evaluate, having regard to what the target audience wants to know. An evaluation process may have both an internal and external focus — an internal focus on the operation of the pro bono practice itself and its impact on the firm, and an external focus which considers the social impact of the program (the benefits gained by individual clients, or broader social outcomes).
- Be clear on the purpose of the evaluation (for example, to demonstrate internal accountability, to show that the pro bono program promotes the firm’s values, or supports its strategic direction).5
- Determine the period to evaluate (for example, whether it covers the entire duration of a program or project, or a limited time period).
- Determine what data is required to obtain the answers to the questions asked in the evaluation. The required data may be solely quantitative (predominately statistical) or qualitative (predominantly discursive) in nature, or may include both.
- Develop questions which will facilitate collection of the data required to evaluate the issue being analysed. The questions may be quantitative or qualitative in nature, or use a mixed method.
- Determine how the required data will be collected. If possible, leverage the firm’s existing record-keeping processes and data collection systems, such as matter management and time recording software. If necessary, set up additional processes or systems to collect data throughout the program. Alternatively, data may need to be obtained using discrete evaluation tools and methods that can be used during and/or after the program being evaluated, such as surveys, questionnaires, interviews or focus groups.6
Appendix 1 — Precedents provides a Guide to Building an Evaluation Tool which illustrates this process.
THE TARGET AUDIENCE
Any assessment about whether a project or program has been successful depends on whose value judgment is used as the basis of the evaluation, the questions asked, and why they are asked. Put simply, a person will decide how successful a project has been based on what is important to them.
For example, the evaluation of the same pro bono program, project or matter may differ depending on whose perspective is adopted, such as the:
- firm’s leadership;
- firm’s pro bono coordinator;
- lawyers doing the pro bono legal work;
- pro bono clients;
- organisations referring clients (for example, PBROs or CLCs);
- relevant partner organisation (for example, a CLC or not-for-profit organisation);
- firm’s commercial clients; or
- broader community.
An evaluation may need to have different layers to respond to different stakeholders and their needs, prioritised according to whose are most influential or important. For example, the factors which were identified by the most firms which responded to the 2014 National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey as the basis for evaluating their pro bono programs were:
- ‘participating lawyer satisfaction’ (selected by 82 percent of respondents);
- ‘client feedback’ (55 percent of respondents);
- ‘social impact’ (41 percent of respondents); and
- ‘feedback from third parties’, such as PBROs (41 percent of respondents).
Getting support for an evaluation may require considerable personal and organisational investment in convincing staff to participate and critically analyse pro bono legal work. As a result, it is important that the evaluation seeks to ask questions to which users of the results will be keen to know the answers. Think about the purpose of the evaluation and how the results of the evaluation are likely to be used.7
THE SCOPE OF THE EVALUATION
The scope of an evaluation can be tailored to the unique needs of the firm. Some firms may benefit from an evaluation that is very narrow in scope, and focused solely on an individual program, class of matters or relationship with a pro bono client. Other firms, as part of their pro bono policy, will set criteria by which they assess the effectiveness of their policy and program generally. One firm, for example, currently undertakes an annual ‘audit’ of its pro bono program using guidelines which include:
- measuring costs and benefits;
- assessing the extent to which awareness and interest in pro bono has spread among the firm’s clients and employees;
- the extent of staff involvement;
- obtaining feedback from pro bono clients and the views of those involved in the work on a day-to-day basis; and
- considering the amount of media coverage given to pro bono.
DECIDING WHAT TO EVALUATE
Decisions about what to evaluate will be informed by the perspectives of the target audience and the purpose of the evaluation. One of the first decisions is whether the evaluation will have an internal and/or an external focus (social impact).
THE INTERNALLY FOCUSED EVALUATION
An internally focused evaluation can be used by a firm to assess a range of aspects of their pro bono program. Internal factors that a firm may consider evaluating include whether resources are being used effectively and efficiently, whether policies and procedures are being complied with to achieve the program objectives, and whether the pro bono program is operating within budget. An evaluation might be quantitative or qualitative in nature, or include a combination of both methods.
Examples of questions that a firm may wish to have answered in the internally focused aspect of an evaluation include:
- Did the firm meet its annual pro bono target?
- Has the program operated within budget?
- Were the firm’s resources used efficiently and in compliance with the policy or program objectives?
- Have referrals been made to appropriate related services?
- What was the experience of the lawyers providing pro bono assistance?
- What skills did the lawyers acquire or develop while undertaking pro bono legal work?
- Has pro bono legal work enhanced staff job satisfaction and morale?
- Has pro bono legal work brought new skills or expertise to the firm?
- What effect has the pro bono legal work had on the firm’s relationships with commercial clients?
- Has pro bono legal work positively promoted the firm and extended its image as a good corporate citizen?
Quantitative data that can be collected and analysed to help to answer these questions may include:
- Targets and budgets
- total pro bono hours performed by the firm;
- average number of pro bono hours performed on a per-lawyer-per-year basis;
- pro bono hours as a percentage of total billable hours;
- the nominal monetary value of pro bono hours worked (based on each fee earner’s commercial charge out rates);
- Internal participation in the pro bono program
- the number of people in the firm participating in pro bono work (lawyers and non-lawyers);
- participation levels for different office locations and practice groups;
- participation rates for lawyers at different levels of seniority across the firm (for example, junior lawyers, senior associates, and partners, or in particular practice groups);8
- Pro bono matter considerations
- relevant demographic details of the individual pro bono client or organisation (this could include demographic information, such as gender, ethnicity and client location. Information of this kind will enable the firm to identify the kinds of clients receiving assistance from the firm, which in turn can inform decisions about targeting resources and/or developing referral sources);
- the number of pro bono clients assisted (whether individuals or organisations);
- the number of pro bono matters;
- sources of referrals (this will assist the firm to evaluate whether the sources of referrals are working to their optimum: firms may need to better develop their relationships with referring organisations);
- types of referrals that are accepted or rejected by the firm;
- the types of pro bono matters and areas of law (this will assist the firm to evaluate the areas where pro bono need is evident as well as areas in which the firm is not receiving referrals);
- other non-client pro bono activities undertaken by the firm, for example, contributions to inquiries and law-reform initiatives.
It may also be useful to keep records of:
- the number/percentage of referrals that fall within and outside the firm’s targeted areas, if any; and of those, the number/percentage of matters that are taken on or declined; and
- the reasons why referrals were declined (for example, conflict of interest, outside target area, other source more appropriate for assistance, client had means, no current expertise in area, no lawyers available); and where they were referred to.
Qualitative data can also be collected to measure other contributions and outcomes of the firm’s pro bono program. Qualitative data may include feedback from key stakeholders such as:
- the firm’s lawyers and other staff about:
- their experience of undertaking pro bono legal work;
- the impact that undertaking pro bono legal work had on their work satisfaction, morale and feelings of loyalty toward the firm; and
- the effect that participating in pro bono projects has had on team building and skills development;
- referring organisations and community partners served by the firm’s pro bono legal work about:
- whether service standards have been met, in terms of responsiveness, quality of work, and the quality of the relationship overall; and
- the effectiveness of these processes;
- the firm’s pro bono clients about:
- their experience of receiving pro bono legal advice;
- the firm’s commercial clients about:
- their knowledge about the firm’s pro bono program;
- their inclusion of pro bono conditions in tender arrangements, if applicable;
- the influence, if any, of a firm’s pro bono program on the client’s decision-making around engaging firms for commercial matters; and
- their attitudes to the firm’s pro bono policy focus areas.
THE EXTERNALLY FOCUSED OR SOCIAL IMPACT EVALUATION
An externally focused evaluation examines what the social impact of the pro bono contribution has been. This is much more difficult to determine, due to the large number of other external factors involved. Examples of questions that a firm may wish to seek answers to in an externally focused evaluation may include:
- What difference did the project make to individual pro bono clients’ lives?
- What impact did the pro bono legal work have on the capacity of partner community organisations to deliver services?
- What was the project’s broader social impact?
The answers to these types of questions can be qualitative and/or quantitative.
Strategies for evaluating social impact
Measuring the broad social impact of a pro bono program, which is a longer term outcome, and one affected by other external factors, is more difficult than an internally focused process or management evaluation.
A general pro bono practice doing pro bono on an ad-hoc basis in response to casework referrals may not have a goal beyond simply helping people who would not otherwise be able to access appropriate legal help on an occasional basis when spare capacity in the firm permits.
Even if a firm is unable to conduct an evaluation of social impact, there is still valuable information that firms can obtain using the following strategies:
Measure impact on a smaller scale
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the thought of trying to measure broad scale social impact. Smaller measurable impacts can also be significant and valuable to identify and record. For example it may be difficult to find out exactly what impact a homeless persons legal service has on reducing the incidence and risk of homelessness. However it is achievable to ask clients of the clinic whether, as a result of receiving legal advice from the service, they feel more confident about what the next step is and whether they feel less stressed.
Focusing on even part of a program, or a single project, will provide results and will contribute to measuring longer-term outcomes.
Use anecdotal evidence
The demand for evidence-based decision-making often means that quantitative models of evaluation are prioritised. However, anecdotal evidence also has value as an indicator of likely social impact. Moreover, anecdotal evidence can be used as a powerful story-telling tool for the firm’s pro bono program.
Anecdotal evidence may also become quantitative where it is collected systematically. In the same way that the credibility of quantitative data may be questioned if it is collected from a very small sample, anecdotal evidence collected systematically from a statistically valid sample may be considered to be highly credible.
Anecdotal evidence certainly may be the most realistic evidence for a pro bono practice to collect where it has insufficient resources to collect data on the scale that would be required to measure ultimate outcomes. For example, New Perimeter’s Evaluation Process asks their partner organisations what they think will be the impact of their collaborative pro bono projects in the short term (6-12 months) and long-term (12-36 months).
In the absence of quantitative data, the anecdotal evidence that a firm collects could be coupled with external research sources (for example, the reports of the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales) to provide support for a prediction about the likely social impact. For example, a firm wanting to measure the social impact of its pro bono legal work with people at risk of homelessness, could support their assumptions using a research study showing that the early provision of legal assistance to avoid fine-related debt for such clients reduces their chances of actually becoming homeless.
Case studies of people’s experience of a firm’s pro bono program can also be gleaned from anecdotal evidence, and utilised as part of a firm’s communications strategy. Anecdotal stories from the firm’s lawyers, secondees, community partners, and pro bono and commercial clients can be utilised to exemplify the impact of a firm’s pro bono program on a wide range of stakeholders.
Use partner organisations
If a firm has identified certain social impact goals it wishes to pursue, it may be able to ‘piggy-back’ off the evaluation processes of a partner organisation that has a strong track record of strategically planning, delivering and evaluating the achievement of these goals. For example, Justice Connect has adopted a Theory of Change evaluation framework for its projects.
Justice Connect and Homeless Law
In general terms, the Theory of Change model is a map of intended outcomes and pathways to an organisation’s long term goal or the ultimate ‘change’ it is seeking to effect.9 Ensuring that the map is comprised of well-defined and measureable outcomes facilitates evaluation.
Justice Connect uses the Theory of Change model in all of its programs. The desired long term outcome of Justice Connect’s Homeless Law program is the prevention of homelessness and the reduction of disadvantage. The starting activities required to achieve this outcome include:
- improving the skills of lawyers to assist homeless clients with legal issues; and
- engagement with the non-legal sector.
Once the outcomes associated with these activities have been achieved the next level of activities and outcomes can be addressed. For example, the provision of greater access to advice and information for homeless persons through outreach-based legal services. This process of actions and outcomes continues, including measuring legal and non-legal outcomes for clients and improved understanding of the relationship between the law and homelessness, until the ultimate outcome is achieved.
It can be helpful to communicate the Theory of Change model by way of a diagram or flow chart, where all the outcomes and pathways to change leading to the ultimate goal can be demonstrated.
Recognise the benefits of an external evaluation process
While in most cases it may be unrealistic to expect that an individual pro bono practice will have the resources to do a full scale quantitative evaluation of the broader social impact of its pro bono efforts, as explained above, there are nevertheless benefits to the process of planning such an evaluation. It moves the pro bono program towards having a strategic focus. If one of the primary aims of the pro bono practice is about improving access to justice, then it is important to know what particular social impact goals the pro bono work aims to achieve.
KEEP IT SIMPLE AND REALISTIC
There is a wealth of evaluation theory and literature which often uses unfamiliar and technical terminology.10 It is possible to implement some simple measures to start collecting useful data without having to develop a complex evaluation framework. In fact, the evaluation process is most likely to work well if it can be integrated into existing work processes, for example adding some questions to an existing matter closure report.
It is important to be realistic about the resources that can be invested in evaluation. The planned outcomes of a pro bono program or project need to be realistic and achievable.
Measuring outcomes becomes more difficult and resource intensive the longer it takes for them to be reached. This is because many different factors, many beyond anyone’s control, will influence the outcomes that are attained over the longer term.
For example, in relation to evaluating a community legal education forum aimed at informing a particular ethnic community about their rights in relation to police powers and the justice system, the factors taken into account might include the following:11
- Immediate outcomes (output) include the levels and the nature of participation and the reactions to the activities used to engage participants.
It is easy to record the number of people from the target community who attended, and collect feedback from a participant questionnaire distributed and filled in immediately after the session.
- Intermediate outcomes (outcome) include the changes in individual or group knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours.
It would take more effort and resources to engage in follow up interviews with participants some time after the session to see if members of the community feel more confident about the justice system and going to the police with problems.
- Ultimate outcomes (impact) include the social impact of the project on access to justice for the target group and broader community.
It would be a highly resource intensive evaluation process to measure the increase in the number of people from the particular ethnic community making complaints to the police and successfully using the justice system as a result of the community forum. Any increase in access to justice for the target community group will also be the result of many factors, such as influence of the media, views of the family and friends, their previous experiences of policing and level of education, and not just the community forum.
1.13.3 COLLECTING DATA
The systematic collection of data is necessary to ensure that the evaluation process is credible and can be legitimately used as the basis of decision-making. Determining what data is required for the evaluation depends on the questions that the evaluation is seeking to answer.12 Once this is known, an appropriate data collection system can be chosen or designed.
Many evaluation questions can be answered using data collected during the program using a data collection system. For example:
- Are intake procedures working well?
- What kinds of cases are being refused? Can and should the program be adjusted to cater for those cases?
- Do additional referral sources need to be identified?
- Which organisations are not making referrals?
- Are the types of clients being assisted consistent with the targets set for the program (if any)?
- Are there some sections of the firm (such as practice groups, demographic groups or levels of seniority) that are not participating in the program? Why not?
Information extracted from pro bono databases will guide the firm in determining the kinds of matters it takes on, and better enable it to identify trends that will in turn assist with evaluation of the work done and with the planning, development, review and extension of its program.
The data collected may be quantitative or qualitative in nature, or include a combination of both methods.
Appendix 1 — Precedents provides:
(a) a Project Evaluation Template, and
(b) a Guide to Building an Evaluation Tool.
COLLECTING QUANTITATIVE INFORMATION
Most firms are likely to already be collecting some of the quantitative information that would be useful for evaluating their pro bono program through their matter management and billing systems, or as the result of their:
- external obligations, such as reporting as required by government;13
- general record-keeping policies, such as matter opening procedures;
- pro bono intake procedures;14 or
- approach to crediting and recognising of pro bono work.15
Some firms with established pro bono practices set up customised databases for pro bono matters to capture a range of additional information, including client profiles (for example gender, cultural and linguistic background, income, and geographic location), area of law and referral source.
If the database and/or the billing system records the type of work being performed, the firm can broadly see how pro bono time is being allocated (for example, the split between time on casework and advice, law reform, pro bono administration, CLE, training). The database may even be detailed enough to outline the area of law or practice that the work relates to (for example, governance, employment, tax). The firm’s billing system should also capture the seniority of the person doing the work.
One of the advantages of setting up pro bono databases is that they can be used as both measurement and supervisory tools. This kind of database may be also useful for recording information such as court or limitation dates.
Information in the database can be regularly updated by staff involved in the matter. Relevant segments of information can then be extracted for different purposes such as financial reporting, current status reports and for measuring demographic information about clients or to ascertain where referrals are, or are not, coming from. Pro bono coordinators, committees or others can periodically access the information to compile reports, supervise work and evaluate the program.
Partner organisations may also collect their own data, either through the Community Legal Service Information System or otherwise. If partner organisations are willing and able to provide firms with the information they collect it may also be helpful in evaluating the firm’s program. Information collected by partner organisations can be a helpful tool for informing how to effectively structure a pro bono partnership and/or better understand unmet legal need.
COLLECTING QUALITATIVE INFORMATION
Qualitative information may be collected during or at the conclusion of the period being evaluated, for example, by:
- recording comments in a register when a paying client makes favourable mention of pro bono legal work done by the firm;
- tracking, recording and analysing the nature of media references to the firm’s pro bono work;
- obtaining testimonials from beneficiaries and/or participants in pro bono programs;
- devising surveys and/or evaluation forms for staff;
- conducting interviews and/or focus groups with staff and other stakeholders;
- including questions about pro bono in the broader staff satisfaction surveys that are conducted by the firm; and
- incorporating questions about the firm’s pro bono practice into staff appraisals, intake interviews and orientations.
For further information on evaluation see the following resources:
- J Owen, Program Evaluation: Forms and Approaches, 3rd ed, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest, 2006.
- M Patton, Utilization-focused Evaluation, 4th ed, Sage Publications, St Paul MN, 2008.
- WK Kellogg Foundation, WK Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Handbook at https://www.wkkf.org/resource-directory/resource/2010/w-k-kellogg-foundation-evaluation-handbook.
- Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), Does your project make a difference? A guide to evaluating environmental education programs, November 2004, at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/ resources/communities/040110-Project-Evaluation.pdf.
2 For an example of an evaluation of a publicly funded legal program see the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria’s Evaluation Report of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria’s Early Intervention and Prevention Program, July 2014, at http://www.fvpls.org/images/files/Evaluation%report%EIPP%Document%REV%WEB.pdf.
4 Checklist points 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 are discussed in detail in this section.
8 The firm may want to achieve a more even distribution of lawyers at different levels of seniority, or in different practice groups, participating in its pro bono program. See Chapter 1.10 Participation.
9 For more information see the Theory of Change Centre website at http://www.theoryofchange.org/ and D Stein and C Valters, Understanding Theory of Change in International Development, August 2012, at http://www.lse.ac.uk/internationalDevelopment/research/JSRP/JSRP%20Papers/JSRP-Paper-1.aspx.
10 For an example of a plain language guide to evaluation terminology and methodology see http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/communities/040110-Project-Evaluation.pdf.
12 See ‘Deciding what to evaluate’, above.