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Tips For Working With Free Help

By Joryn Jenkins

By now, you’ve realized the value of setting up a collaborative pro bono project in your hometown. You may want to consider the value, too, of partnering with your local law school to afford, not just your newly-trained collaborative professionals their first or second collaborative dispute resolution experiences, but also that institution’s law students. While you wait for the law school to accept your challenge, let me share a few tips to help make your experience working with free student help immensely successful.

Working with Law Students

Set simple and clear requirements for the students you accept into your program. If you make exceptions to your minimum requirements, be certain that you know why. Ensure that your volunteer professionals are aware of the minimum requirements, any exceptions you may have made for the student assigned to work with them, and why.

Set clear goals and expectations for each of your students. Discuss with the students you accept what you expect from them throughout your partnership together. Ask what they hope to learn from you and from their collaborative teams. Ensure that the team to which each student is assigned is aware of that student’s goals. Ensure that everyone’s expectations are realistic.

Ensure that your students are aware of the collaborative practice protocols you usually employ on the matters your project handles, i.e. how many full team meetings to expect, how long they are likely to run, when debriefs will be scheduled, how many off-sides meetings each professional may hold and whether the student may attend any or all of those, etc.

Honor Your Commitments

By entering into this partnership with both the law school and each student you accept, you’ve made a commitment. You’ve also made a promise to the collaborative professional volunteers of your project. And, of course, you’ve got an obligation to each couple who seeks resolution through your project. So keep those obligations. Before anything else, ensure that you or your teams gives everyone assigned to each matter accurate contact times and information that work for everyone. Ensure that everyone involved has access to the technology, and therefore the ability to attend necessary meetings.

Imagine yourself in the students’ shoes. They are students, not lawyers. Don’t expect them to know all the answers. You or your volunteer professionals will need to slow down and explain, when necessary. Remember, and remind your volunteers, “We were each a student once, too.”

Encourage your students to ask you and their team members questions. Explain that the right time for those questions is not during the hard or difficult work with the clients in the room but during debriefs or other offsides opportunities. Your students will be eager to learn but may be embarrassed to ask, so explaining the “when” and the “how” will help with that. Prompt questions when you can and answer them as best you can.

Finally, enjoy working with young and creative minds. Give your students room to make suggestions. Make sure they know, at the very least, to make suggestions to you, as administrator of your program. We are all different and we all bring different skills and experiences to the table so listen to your students with an open mind.

If you’d like to know more about setting up your own collaborative pro bono project, you can buy the how-to book, here, at A Free Divorce Handbook, How to Organize a Collaborative Divorce Pro Bono Project, And if you have more questions, you can always reach out to me at or find me at Your Collaborative Marketing Coach. Your marketing is my marketing! And if you’d like to learn more about how to become a Collaborative Champion or a Legal Influencer, buy my toolkit or attend my training!

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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