by Robert Granfield and Lynn Mather (eds). New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 352pp. Cloth. $75.00/£50.00. ISBN: 9780195386073.

Reviewed by Mark C. Miller, Department of Political Science, Clark University. Mmiller [at]


This edited volume presents cutting edge research on how and why lawyers in private practice carry out various pro bono activities. As Judge Robert A. Katzmann states in his Foreword to the book, “In this stellar collection, Robert Granfield and Lynn Mather bring together scholars concerned about the role of pro bono in the legal profession – its history, organization, strategies and structure.” Like all edited works, some of the chapters are stronger than others. Nevertheless, it is an important addition to the literature in this area, with research coming from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including political science, sociology, law professors, and other socio-legal scholars. The chapter authors also use a wide variety of methodologies in their research. The book has 15 chapters, including the introduction. Thus, this wide-ranging collected volume will join some of the classics in the field of pro bono law work such as Katzmann (1995) and Rhode (2005).

The collection begins with an introductory chapter by the editors of this volume (which grew out of a conference held at the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy located at the State University of New York at Buffalo). Granfield and Mather explore some of the pedagogical, economic, cultural, and political dimensions of pro bono work among private sector lawyers. The chapter also notes that the U.S. is unusual around the world in depending so heavily on private lawyers to provide legal services to the poor and other underrepresented groups in civil cases.

The next several chapters examine pro bono work in the law school setting. In chapter 2, Cynthia Adcock provides a history of pro bono activities among law students. This chapter examines student-initiated programs, optional and required pro bono opportunities provided by law schools, and the role of the ABA and other groups in promoting pro bono activities for law students. Since 2005, the ABA has required that law schools offer substantial pro bono opportunities for their students as part of the law school curriculum. In chapter 3, Robert Granfield and Philip Veliz gather lawyers’ reflections on their mandatory pro bono experiences in law school. The data for this chapter are based on a survey of 474 graduates of three law schools that were in the process of implementing mandatory pro bono requirements for graduation in the 1990s. The study found significant differences in attitudes toward pro bono work depending on which law school the lawyers attended and especially the prestige level of that law school. In chapter 4, Deborah A. Schmedemann [*333] further examines the impact of law school pro bono opportunities for lawyers after they graduate. This chapter draws heavily from academic literature which studies volunteering and community-based service learning. The findings are that lawyers and non-lawyers are very similar in their attitudes toward volunteering and community service as part of their professional lives.

Next, the volume turns to several chapters about the economic impacts of pro bono work. In her chapter, sociologist Rebecca L. Sandefur examines the consequences of the fact that the U.S. depends so heavily on market-based legal aid to the poor. She is especially interested in contrasting services provided by the federally subsidized Legal Services Corporation lawyers with organized pro bono programs run by large law firms or other groups of private sector lawyers. She concludes by stating that “The market-reliance of American-style civil legal assistance creates a predictably unreliable system for providing civil legal aid” (p.111).

In their chapter, Ronit Dinovitzer and Bryant G. Garth examine pro bono work as an intentional strategy for new lawyers. These authors find that although lawyers in large private firms engage in more pro bono work, that work is not evenly distributed among all large firm lawyers. According to their analysis, law school graduates from elite law schools tend to do more pro bono work than other new lawyers. Steven Boutcher’s chapter continues this theme of examining pro bono work in large law firms. He finds that pro bono work is becoming more and more institutionalized and formalized in the large law firm setting. In part, this effort is a reaction against the continued commercialization of large law firm practice, with the largest firms performing the most pro bono work. In her chapter, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein examines the role played by the founders and current leaders of large law firms in promoting pro bono work in these prestigious firms.

On the other hand, the chapter by Leslie Levin explores pro bono efforts in the small and solo firm context. This chapter notes that some pro bono work is intentional, while some is unplanned because clients end up not paying for the legal services they receive. Some lawyers specifically target low income clients as part of the firm’s business plan and niche, while other lawyers seek to serve a wide variety of clientele.

Scott Cummings and Ann Southworth’s highly innovative essay examines pro bono work in so-called public interest law firms. These firms intentionally blur the line between non-profit organizations and traditional for-profit legal offices. These authors clearly state that they are not studying cause lawyers, because that concept centers more on professional identity rather than on the lawyers’ work. Thus, these authors define private public interest firms as those that depend on client fees rather than charitable donations, but also have some sort of broadly defined political agenda in their work. Because these firms are dedicated to a specific social and/or political mission, traditional pro bono work is often seen as a distraction from the firm’s commitment to the firm’s vision of the public interest. [*334]

Some of the chapters use a case study methodology. The essay authored by James Clarke Gocker provides a case study of the role of pro bono lawyers in the housing crisis in Buffalo, New York. This research concludes that many attorneys want more autonomy in their pro bono efforts. Cynthia Feathers examines how the New York State Bar Association defines and measures pro bono efforts. As she concludes, “If the State Bar definitional debate served any function, it was to stir thought and discussion about the importance of pro bono and public service by lawyers in addressing such needs” (p.276).

The final section of the book focuses on the future of pro bono research and scholarship. In her chapter, Deborah Rhode explores how some see pro bono work merely as enhancing the reputation, experience, contacts, and relationships of the individual lawyers involved. Rhode, however, argues that selfless action provides its own intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Her essay attempts to provide a framework grounded in strategic philanthropy for future pro bono efforts. This chapter raises questions about how the profession defines pro bono work, as well as noting the many limitations of current pro bono programs. She also provides some suggestions for evaluating the effectiveness of organized pro bono efforts in promoting the public good. She ends with this observation: “When attorneys talk about pro bono, they generally speak in shorthand. “Publico” has dropped out of the discourse. We can afford to lose the Latin, but not the concept” (p.262). In his chapter, John Henry Schlegel further explores how lawyers should define the public interest, using a Critical Legal Studies perspective. Richard L. Abel ends the volume with his essay on the various means that societies can use to provide legal services to the poor and under-served. These four mechanisms include state sponsored legal aid, market driven legal aid, charitable legal aid, and self-help. He examines when societies shift from one means to another, and what ramifications that choice has for the larger society as a whole.

Taken together, this volume provides a rich variety of perspectives on lawyers’ pro bono work today. For anyone interested in this field of inquiry, this fine collection should be the starting point of any future research agenda in this area.

Katzmann, Robert A., editor. 1995. THE LAW FIRM AND THE PUBLIC GOOD. Washington, D.C.: Brookings.

Rhode, Deborah L. 2005. PRO BONO IN PRINCIPLE AND IN PRACTICE. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

© Copyright 2011 by the author, Mark C. Miller.