2019/09/09 ¢  THE POLITICS OF PRO BONO Scott L. Cummings Pro bono has undergone a profound transformation

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  • THE POLITICS OF PRO BONO

    Scott L. Cummings

    Pro bono has undergone a profound transformation. Whereas for most of American legal history, pro bono was ad hoc and individualized, dispensed infor- mally as professional charity, within the last twenty-five years it has become centralized and streamlined, distributed through an elaborate institutional structure by private lawyers acting out of professional duty. Pro bono has thus emerged as the dominant means of dispensing free representation to poor and underserved clients, eclipsing state-sponsored legal services and other nongovernmental mechanisms in importance. This Article examines the causes, features, and consequences of pro bono's institutionalization. It begins with an analysis of the forces behind pro bono's institutional rise, emphasizing the role of the organized bar, federal legal services, the nonprofit sector, and big law firms. This Article then maps the contours of pro bono's institutional architecture, analyzing the structures of organizational collaboration, mechanisms of efficiency, strategies for accountability, and processes of adaptation that define pro bono's operational identity. It concludes by probing the systemic consequences of pro bono's new institutional centrality, weighing the pragmatic benefits of leveraged law firm resources against the limitations imposed by the dependence on private lawyers beholden to commercial client interests.

    * Acting Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law. I am enormously grateful to Richard Abel, Gary Blasi, Andrew Boon, Devon Carbado, Sharon Dolovich, Victor Fleischer, Jody Freeman, Joel Handler, Kevin Johnson, Bill Klein, M~ximo Langer, Gia Lee, Albert Moore, Fran Olsen, Kal Raustiala, Gary Rowe, Bill Rubenstein, Rick Sander, Bill Simon, Ann Southworth, Clyde Spillenger, Louise Trubek, Adam Winkler, Steve Yeazell, Jonathan Zasloff, and the participants in the UCLA Faculty Workshop for their helpful comments and generous support. I am also thankful to Nancy Anderson, Kyle Amdt, Lance Bocarsly, Jan Chatten-Brown, Christina Chung, Brian Condon, Erick Cordero, Maya Crawford, Bill Dean, Peter Eliasberg, Lynn Etkins, Ted Fillette, Ruth Fisher, Mark Haddad, Maria Hall, Bruce Iwasaki, Jolie Justus, David Kahn, John Kieman, Esther Lardent, David Lash, Karen Lash, Jan LeMessurier Flack, Helenka Marculewicz, Cathy Mayokas, Irene Morales, Tanya Neiman, Sharon Ngim, Julie Orr, Kathi Pugh, Gail Ruderman Feuer, Lowell Sachnoff, Steven Scudder, Debbie Segal, Dan Stormer, Ronald Tabak, Lauren Teukolsky, Maureen Thornton Syracuse, Donald Tolbert, and Judith Whitelock for sharing their insights about pro bono. This project benefited greatly from the efforts of Myra Saunders and the staff at the Hugh and Hazel Darling Library, and Joseph Doherty of the UCLA Empirical Research Group. I owe a very special debt of gratitude to Dan Grunfeld, whose mentorship has been formative and without whom this Article would not have been possible. As always, I am deeply indebted to Ingrid Eagly for her inspiration and support. Finally, thanks to Michelle Alig, Landon Bailey, and James Stein for their outstanding research assistance.

  • 2 52 UCLA LAW REVIEW 1 (2004)

    INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................. 3 I. THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF PRO BONO .............................................................. 6

    A . Profession ...................................................................................................... 7 B . S tate ................................................................................................................. 19 C. Civil Society ................................................................................................ 25 D. M arket ......................................................................................................... 33

    II. THE N EW ARCHITECTURE OF PRO BONO .............................................................. 41 A . Collaboration ............................................................................................. 41

    1. Connectivity ........................................................................................ 42 2. Facilitation ........................................................................................... 49 3. Coordination ....................................................................................... 55

    a. Differentiation ............................................................................. 56 b. Formality ..................................................................................... 62

    B. Efficiency .................................................................................................... 65 1. Transaction Costs ............................................................................... 65

    a. Exchange ...................................................................................... 66 b. M enus ........................................................................................... 69 c. Scripts ........................................................................................... 70 d. Signals ........................................................................................... 71

    2. Calibration .......................................................................................... 72 a. Scale .............................................................................................. 72 b. Specialization ............................................................................... 77

    C. Accountability ........................................................................................... 82 D. Adaptation .................................................................................................. 89

    1. Local .................................................................................................... 90 2. G lobal .................................................................................................. 96

    III. PRO BONO AND THE PUBLIC GOOD ...................................................................... 99 A . Possibility .................................................................................................... 99

    1. Pragmatism ......................................................................................... 99 2. Flexibility ................................................................................................ 103 3. Leverage .................................................................................................. 104

    B. Tension .......................................................................................................... 106 C. Constraint ...................................................................................................... 115

    1. Cases ....................................................................................................... 116 a. Conflicts .......................................................................................... 116 b. M arket Risk ..................................................................................... 122 c. M arket Appeal ................................................................................ 123 d. Comparison ..................................................................................... 129

    2. Lawyers ................................................................................................... 135 a. Time ................................................................................................ 135 b. Commitment ................................................................................... 136

    3. Partnerships ............................................................................................ 140 a. Priorities .......................................................................................... 140 b. Complexity ...................................................................................... 142

    PRO BONO: A POSTSCRIPT ............................................................................................ 145

  • The Politics of Pro Bono

    INTRODUCTION

    The dominant narrative of pro bono over the past decade was one of a professional ideal under siege. Particularly as law firms experienced fan- tastic growth in the late 1990s, lawyers became subject to market pressures that placed strains on their capacity to engage in pro bono service) The dot-com boom created a market bubble at the nation's biggest law firms, where spiraling profits were met by increasing billable-hour demands. Pro bono suffered under the new law firm economics, as lawyers sacrificed pub- lic service in the name of ballooning salaries and bigger year-end bonuses.2

    Even as the blistering pace of Internet dealmaking screeched to a halt and volunteerism was resurrected in the new millennium,' pro bono failed to regain its previous standing as associates fearful of looming layoffs were reluctant to appear too consumed with nonbillable work. The professional elite condemned pro bono's retrenchment in the face of law firm commer- cialization," giving official sanction to the discourse of pro bono's decline.5

    1. See, e.g., Austin Sarat, Enactments of Professionalism: A Study of Judges' and Lawyers' Accounts of Ethics and Civility in Litigation, 67 FORDHAM L. REV. 809, 817 (1998) (noting the bottom-line pressures of large-firm practice).

    2. See Aric Press, Eight Minutes, AM. LAW., July 2000, at 13; Maria Shim, Trickle-doum Theory Not Hitting Pro Bono, NAT'L L.J., Aug. 28, 2000, at C19; Greg Winter, Legal Firms Cutting Back on Free Services for Poor, N.Y. TIMES, Aug. 17, 2