When Pro Bono Leads to Conflicts

June 29, 2017
The American Lawyer

Media Coverage

The timeline highlights the knotty questions firms can face when it comes to selecting pro bono matters. How does a firm balance pro bono causes chosen by its lawyers with obligations to paying clients? Are conflicts often created? How do firms deal with it?

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Alan Hoffman, chairman and managing partner of Blank Rome, says in an email that his firm vets every potential pro bono clients through its client intake department in the same way paying clients are vetted. The firm's director of pro bono services reviews each new matter, "to ensure that there are no direct conflicts and to consider whether the proposed representation might pose a positional or business conflict," Hoffman says. Then, an internal practice group leader makes a similar review.

"Through these multi-level reviews, we avoid representations that are at odds with the interests of our current firm clients, whether those are fee-paying or current pro bono clients of the firm," Hoffman writes.

"Fortunately, we have never had to devise a tactic for how to address a scenario when a fee-paying client is irked by one of our pro bono representations. This is due, perhaps, to the fact that the vast majority of pro bono work is simply not controversial," Hoffman says.

In the end, it seems many firms take on cases important to them, no matter how controversial. And as with paying clients, they manage conflicts, real and perceived. 

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"When Pro Bono Leads to Conflicts," by Mariam Rozen was published in The American Lawyer on June 29, 2017.