Problems Finding Pro Bono Collaborative Clients

By Joryn Jenkins

We immediately ran into problems.  Not that finding clients who qualify for free services was difficult.  No, for sale we had an established local agency in our community intaking and qualifying needy individuals.  So, we simply solicited referrals there.

However, I had naïvely expected that Bay Area Legal Services would send us prospective clients without hesitating.  Not so fast!  The first problem we ran into was the “conflict of interest” issue.  What conflict of interest, you ask?  BALS could not represent both Wife and Husband in the dissolution of their marriage.  Therefore, BALS could only refer one spouse to us; our pro bono team had to “solicit” the participation of the other spouse.  Makes sense, right?  🙂  So wereturned to BALS and explained that we could do that.

Still nothing happened.  At one point, one of our committee members, Adam Cordover, later my collaborative teammate, performed a mini-training for BALS’ intake volunteers, just to ensure that they understood the theory behind CP.  (We will probably make such training a regular aspect of our committee work, because volunteers turn over regularly.)

After several meetings with the BALS managers, during which I thought we had worked out all of the practical kinks in the process, we still were not receiving referrals.  Then I realized that BALS had, conveniently, just begun publishing a list of “clients looking for lawyers” for our local bar association.  Everything happens for a reason, right?  I decided to solicit specific cases from the list.

More problems!  Several times, when I asked BALS to refer me a case, the surprise was evident: “We didn’t think you’d want that one!”  My surprise was equal and opposite: “Why ever NOT?”  The answers were various and, in retrospect, obvious.  “There was domestic violence.”  “The other spouse is out-of-state.”  Even “the other spouse has an income that does not permit him to qualify for pro bono services” was a reason.  All of these issues were understandable, and worth discussing.  Ultimately, we worked through them and, hopefully, we have now reached an understanding.  But it did take a number of such back-and-forths before we felt that BALS had a grip on the prospective client most suitable for our pro bono collaborative divorce teams: ALMOST ANYONE!

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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