Lawyers and law students around the country are poring over this month’s issue of The American Lawyer, eager to see how their firms stack up in the pro bono rankings and on the magazine’s “A List,” for which pro bono hours are a major factor. But that focus on pro bono might not exist if not for Bill Pollak, President and CEO of ALM, publisher of The American Lawyer, and Pro Bono Net’s new board chair.
ALM is a leading provider of specialized business news, research and information, focused primarily on the legal and commercial real estate sectors. Its legal publications include The National Law Journal, Corporate Counsel, Law Technology News and numerous regional and specialty publications.
When Bill joined ALM as President and CEO in 1998, The American Lawyer was known for the quality of its investigative journalism as well as for the AmLaw 100. He and The American Lawyer’s Editor in Chief Aric Press, who came on board at the same time, “believed we should use these platforms we had to do more than just print magazines and sell ads, but should use the bully pulpit to advance the public good,” Bill explained. “We identified a couple of areas that we wanted to put more resources against. Pro bono was one, diversity was another.”
The A List and pro bono rankings were created, and have become a driving force behind law firm pro bono efforts. Pro bono hours among the 200 largest law firms have grown for the last decade and continued to increase in 2010, albeit at a slower pace, despite the turmoil in the legal market.
“We’ve been particularly focused on using our resources to support and celebrate law firms that put time and energy into pro bono work - not in a hectoring way but by holding up those that do well,” Bill says. “There is no question there’s been an impact. It’s extremely gratifying.”
Serving on the board of Pro Bono Net, which he’s done since 2000, is another way of supporting and encouraging pro bono. In addition to his personal commitment to public service, “it’s consistent with ALM’s belief that this is the right thing for law firms to be working on,” he said.
Bill was elected chair of Pro Bono Net’s Board of Directors in June. He succeeds the organization’s founding chair, Michael Cooper of Sullivan & Cromwell, who will remain a member of the board.
Though at first concerned about leading the board as a non-lawyer, Bill has come to believe that his background will be an asset. “The more I thought about it, what we need is a little bit of that business perspective,” he said. “I think I can help the board to organize its thinking and its activity in a different way.”
Chief among his priorities is ensuring that Pro Bono Net remains on a strong financial footing despite the toll the economy has taken on nonprofit fundraising. “We have to devote more board time and energy to all aspects of fundraising,” he says.
Another priority is to support the expansion of Pro Bono Net’s programs, including Probono.net, LawHelp.org and LawHelp Interactive. “Most of the board members were attracted to Pro Bono Net because of the programs,” he says. In the 10 years he’s been on the board, Pro Bono Net has seen tremendous growth. The challenge now is, “how can we help to extend that?”
Pro Bono Net’s board is well positioned to address these questions, he said. “We have a great mix: lawyers from around the country who are really engaged in pro bono practice and issues, and people with experience serving the legal world who are in the business world and understand what it may take for an organization to succeed in this environment.”
Want to hear more from Bill? Check out his blog (http://us-blog.alm.com/) or follow him on Twitter (@wpollak).