This chapter focuses on the use of surveys as a tool to assist firms in the development or refinement of their pro bono programs.
Surveys provide a useful way to obtain information about pro bono opportunities in which the firm and its staff are interested. Surveys can also help to build support for the program within the firm by involving a broader range of people in decision-making about the focus of the firm’s pro bono legal program.
With management support, and as a part of a broader development strategy, a survey of a firm’s interest can signal to lawyers that the firm is committed to improving, refining or expanding its pro bono program.
Surveys may also be used to gather information that can be used to evaluate the pro bono program, or a particular project or matter. For more information about the use of surveys for evaluation purposes, see Chapter 1.13 Evaluation.
In applying survey results it should be remembered that the key driver for all pro bono programs should be improving access to justice and addressing unmet legal need.
1.5.1 ENSURING THE USEFULNESS OF A SURVEY
Ensuring the usefulness of a survey will involve designing a surveying process that takes into account factors such as the level of support for pro bono legal work that already exists in the firm, the stage of development of the pro bono practice, and the size of the firm.
For example, a firm with an ad hoc pro bono program in the process of developing a more structured and coordinated program might find it helpful to ask the following questions of its partners, lawyers and other staff members:
- What pro bono legal work is already being done? This could address sources of referral and areas of law.
- What are your areas of interest?
- What do you perceive to be the areas of greatest unmet legal need?
- What skills and experience relevant to pro bono legal work do you already have (for example lawyers who previously worked at a CLC or for Legal Aid)?
- What links do you already have with community organisations and charities (for example, staff who are on the board of a charity, CLC or other community organisation)?
Where pro bono legal work is already supported firm-wide, it may be appropriate to survey all staff. However, where the level of support for pro bono in the firm is more varied, it may be more appropriate to initially conduct individual consultations with partners or with those who are particularly interested in being involved.
For a smaller firm, individual or small group consultations may be more realistic than in a larger firm which may need to use more formal survey tools.
A structured pro bono practice with established focus areas may be more interested in using surveys to gauge staff sentiment on a specific issue, such as setting the level of the pro bono target. For example, one pro bono coordinator explained that lunchtime forums were held, not to gauge interest, but to test specific concepts like focus areas and fee credit ceilings.
1.5.2 MANAGING SURVEY RISKS
Some experienced pro bono coordinators have found that surveying staff about their areas of interest in pro bono legal work can unrealistically raise their expectations about the kind of pro bono opportunities that will be available to them.
Some strategies to avoid this risk may include:
- providing staff with a range of options for pro bono focus areas that have already been assessed as being suitable for the firm’s pro bono program;
- giving staff a clear strategic framework, which has been approved and supported by the firm’s leadership, so that they can provide feedback within those parameters;
- informing the staff being surveyed of the constraints of the pro bono practice so that they are realistic in their suggestions; and
- being clear about the kind of information that the survey is intended to gather and how it will be used.
Another potential risk is that there will be a low response rate to the survey which will undermine its credibility or usefulness, or worse, it will be viewed negatively as an unwelcome additional demand on lawyers’ time.
To address this risk, ideally it should be made clear to those being surveyed that the process is being carried out with the full endorsement and support of the firm’s partnership. Participation in any pro bono-related work, like participation in a survey process and acceptance of its importance, is likely to be greater where the firm’s lawyers perceive that the firm’s leadership have made a genuine and serious commitment to pro bono.
There may be other creative ways to encourage staff at a particular firm to participate. One pro bono coordinator, for example, who recently conducted a firm-wide survey at a mid-sized firm explained that all staff who completed the survey went into the draw to win an iPad.
Surveys should also be well planned to target only important information and minimise the amount of time that it takes to provide it. Communicating the reasons why the survey data is being collected and how it will be used, then demonstrating that the information has been put to good use, will help to encourage participation in future surveys and assist in building the pro bono culture at the firm.