This week the Pro Bono Institute has issued Law Firm Deferred Associates and Public Interest Placements: Survey Report and Preliminary Analysis. The report is based on two surveys performed by PBI in February: one of law firms who had deferred associates working in public interest placements, and the other of public interest organizations. As for the methodology, about 170 public interest organizations responded to part/all of the survey, and about 45 law firms responded. The findings generally comport with much of the other evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, gathered thus far about this unique phenonmenon. It is still too early for law firms to assess in any depth how things will play out for their associates, because many associates are still in their deferral periods or have only just recently returned to the firms. The public interest orgnizations that are hosting deferred associates have broadly favorable reviews of the associates’ work. Just about 75% of respondents to a question about associate contributions in the public interest organization rated those contributions as either 4s or 5s on a 0-5 scale (5 being the best). Here are some quotes from the public interest organizations:
[The deferred associates] are a wonderful resource to our clients. Although they cost us time and our logistical resources, we recoup that through their work. It also builds on our relationship with their firms and hopefully makes them into well-rounded lawyers when they return to private practice.
The deferred associate served an essential role as co-counsel for a complex Medical Assistance case that culminated in an 8 hour administrative hearing in her final week.
One deferred associate saved our youth program which would have otherwise been lost.
Although most reports are quite positive, and the phenomenon generally has been received in the pro bono community as a large success, it has not been all smooth sailing. The report notes that:
Complaints reported by respondents included administrative difficulty with firms’ “rigid” procedures, as well as minimal firm involvement in placing associates. Lack of coordination with firms regarding benefits and oversight, as well as poor communication with the firm overall, and brief associate stays were also cited as problems, as was the desire for greater associate availability in rural areas.
We encourage you to read the full report, and here’s some New York Law Journal covearage of its release. Speaking of deferred associates and New York, here is a separate report that the New York City Bar and City Bar Justice Center produced about how deferred associate placements are working out in NYC. And here is a link to a piece that we contributed to the ABA Division of Legal Services’ Dialogue magazine about how this phenomenon has been playing out nationwide.