Pro Bono Program
About the Program
As early as the 1970’s, efforts have been made to encourage federal government attorneys to engage in pro bono work. Perceived conflicts of interest and other obstacles have been slowly removed or refined by each Administration to facilitate attorneys’ involvement in this professional duty. In 1996, this process culminated in the issuance of Executive Order 12988, which directed federal agencies to develop policies which would encourage their employees to perform volunteer work. EO 12988 Secs. 2 and 5, specifically noted pro bono work by federal attorneys and designated the Attorney General to coordinate the government-wide effort. In order to comply with the Order, the Department of Justice drafted its pro bono policy and set up a Pro Bono Program. It then invited all other federal agencies to join the Interagency Pro Bono Working Group, a committee which could assist agencies in drafting their own policies and in complying with the Order as well.
Since that time, the Interagency Pro Bono Working Group, now the steering committee for the Federal Government Pro Bono Program, has expanded its original task of developing pro bono policies and now serves as a resource for all federal agencies on matters related to pro bono work by federal attorneys. Currently, over 50 federal agencies participate in the Program. Each agency has a pro bono coordinator and most agencies have written pro bono policies to guide and encourage their attorneys and legal staff. The Program also acts as a liaison for the larger legal community, most notably the public interest legal services organizations, when issues or opportunities for government attorneys come up. In 2009, the American Bar Association recognized the success of the Program and honored it with the Pro Bono Publico Award. In 2018, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program of DC honored the Program with its Justice in the Community Award in appreciation for the many volunteers which the Program had recruited for its clients.
Although the Program was created in Washington DC, the Federal Government Pro Bono Program has branches in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Dallas. In addition, the DC program has expanded to include statewide Maryland opportunities. In these locations, the Program has networked with local legal services organizations, held trainings for federal government attorneys, and organized events to recruit volunteers. These efforts are organized by committees of local federal attorneys similar to the Interagency Pro Bono Working Group, which continues to oversee all of them. Attorneys outside of these cities are also eligible to seek the assistance of the Program to help them find appropriate pro bono opportunities in their jurisdiction.
The Program and various agency pro bono programs hold events and activities throughout the year. Each October since 2003, the Program sponsors Government Pro Bono Week, a week of events dedicated to promoting and celebrating pro bono work among government attorneys and legal staff. These events generally include panel discussions, trainings, pro bono fairs, and either a keynote address or an event with the judiciary. Other events during the year include informational presentations, legal briefings, pro bono clinics, and community building programs.
Federal government attorneys now regularly take cases and other projects from a wide variety of organizations. For example, in 2021, federal government attorneys accepted over 60 housing and family law cases from the DC Bar Pro Bono Center’s Advocacy & Justice Clinic and 25 adoption cases from the Alliance for Children’s Rights in Los Angeles, as well multiple housing conditions cases from Legal Services-New York City and the Legal Aid Society of DC. Our attorneys and legal staff regularly volunteer at brief advice clinics and draft wills and life planning documents for pro bono clients. We also provide educational opportunities for high school students to encourage them to consider legal careers.
Pro Bono Program Manager
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530