Working For Free

By Joryn Jenkins

By now, you’ve realized the value of setting up a collaborative pro bono project in your hometown. It’s an amazing way to get the word out into your community while also affording newly-trained collaborative professionals their first or second collaborative experiences, trying new versions of the collaborative process, and making it accessible to the low-income population in your backyard. While you wait for your local legal services groups to refer the first few collaborative clients to your project, let me share a few tips to help make your experience successful.

Working with Low-Income Clients

Be patient and sensitive to their obstacles and any impediments they may suffer that might interfere with their full participation in the process. Many low-income clients come with diverse experiences, backgrounds, cultures, and languages. Ensure that your qualification process identifies these for each client you accept into your project. Try to sensitize your volunteer professionals to them before they first meet the clients. While our pro bono clients are (usually) especially grateful for the opportunities afforded them by our low cost projects, they may suffer from stress especially augmented (over and above that caused by the dispute for which they seek your help) by any of these additional complications, as well as by the lack of funds which, in part, brough them to you in the first place.

Stress the confidentiality and other benefits afforded by the collaborative process. This will help you build trust with the clients of your project. You have a special relationship with them as administrator of your collaborative project. As you well know, it is often a tough decision to seek a divorce or other collaborative help. Being straightforward with your clients can give them the sense of security they need to trust the team professionals that you assign them and to move through the collaborative process with them.

Meet Your Pro Bono Clients Where They Are

Exercise your compassionate side but be careful about appearing condescending. Ensure that your team professionals do the same. You all may have to explain the process and its various steps in simpler terms. You may have to repeat yourself more than once. (See reference to “stress” above.) Certainly, you all should plan to repeat important information so that you are all on the same page.

Ensure that your team professionals always afford their clients with advance notice of any and all meeting times, as well as the team-approved agendas for any and all client meetings. No surprises! Create a collaborative case information sheet that provides your clients (and the volunteers on each matter) contact info for everyone on the team, as well as the best means of communication for each. Your team should always discuss when it is best for the team to meet, as well as for the timing of any offsides meetings in between. Keep in mind that transportation, or phone or computer access may be limited. If so, do you have the ability to facilitate the client’s participation? (I have a client right now who has no computer access; she attends Zoom meetings with her team from my conference room with an older, spare laptop we keep in my office for that very purpose.)

Finally, be flexible. Ensure your team volunteers understand the need for adaptability. Adjustments and arrangements may have to be made at the last minute, depending on your clients and their specific situations.

If you’d like to know more about setting up your own collaborative pro bono project, you can buy the how-to book 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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