“Spray and pray.” This is a term that strategic philanthropists use to criticize donors who simply spread assistance broadly and hope that something good will come of it. Something usually does, but rarely is it a cost-effective use of resources.
Yet this approach is all too common in law firm pro bono programs. Despite commendable increases in concern and participation rates, many support an unfocused range of projects and make little if any systematic effort at assessment. That tendency is encouraged by the growing influence of ranking systems that direct attention only to the quantity, not quality or social impact, of pro bono work. And the tendency may get worse in the current economic crisis, as firms scramble to find more pro bono opportunities for attorneys who lack sufficient paying work.
With so much in flux and so much at stake, this is a timely moment to ask deeper questions about the structure of pro bono programs and how they might better serve the public as well as the profession.