Recognizing Volunteer Attorneys for Their Service

In order to maintain a continued interest in and commitment to pro bono participation, it is crucial to regularly acknowledge the time and value that volunteer attorneys provide in achieving your organization's mission and providing services to clients.

Effective recognition can take a number of forms from public praise at large awards ceremonies to a quiet acknowledgement of value like offering a volunteer dedicated office space.

Benefits of Recognizing Volunteer Attorneys

  • Retain volunteers
  • Strengthen the community
  • Publicize the organization to the legal community and the community at large

Recognizing volunteers for their work makes it clear that you value the work that they do. It also provides them with an incentive to continue volunteering. Recognition events also highlight volunteer accomplishments and include staff and volunteers in a shared point of pride. These events not only provide volunteers with a networking opportunity but also offer legal aid organizations a forum to recruit new volunteers.

By celebrating the service and accomplishments of your volunteers, you celebrate the accomplishments of the organization as a whole. If volunteers invite their personal contacts to recognition events, those additional people will be exposed to the positive impact of the organization.

A Resource Model: Faces of Justice Video Series Developed by Illinois Legal Aid Online

IllinoisProBono.org and IllinoisLegalAdvocate.org produce the Faces of Justice video series to highlight outstanding volunteers, advocates, judges, and law students working to expand access to justice.

Volunteers are nominated through a publicly available form on IllinoisProBono.org. Illinois Legal Aid Online staff reviews nominations with a small committee and selects one honoree a month to interview.

The videos are in a question-and-answer format and focus on the volunteers as well as motivations for volunteering and major successes.

The interview with the honoree is typically an hour long and relies on a standardized set of interview questions:

  1. Introduction that includes the volunteer's name, where they work, position/job title, and expertise
  2. What barriers do you see people face when they can't afford a lawyer?
  3. Do you have any stories from your work/client/case/project?
  4. What prompted you to do this work?
  5. Where were your first impressions of Illinois Legal Aid Online?
  6. What are three words to describe Illinois Legal Aid Online?
  7. What does justice mean to you?
  8. What was your first example of fairness or justice?

The interview is edited to a three to four minute long video, which typically includes the answers to four or five questions.

The final videos are posted on the homepage of IllinoisProBono.org and IllinoisAdvocate.org. Each video typically receives 60-150 views.

Essential Components of Volunteer Recognition

Emphasize impact on the organization & the community

Offer personalized recognition

Be genuine

Be timely

Sharing positive outcomes from pro bono work can help demonstrate its importance.

Try sharing a story about a particular client or explaining how planning an event helped the organization meet its goals.

Whenever possible, recognition should be personalized to a volunteer's motivations.

Socially-motivated volunteers might like public recognition. Others may find it embarrassing.

In order to provide effective recognition, you need to get to know your volunteers and what they will respond to positively.

Don't give praise unless you mean it. If you praise substandard performance, the praise you give to others for good work will not be valued.

Save recognition for exemplary work and make sure it's proportional to the task the volunteer completed.

Annual award ceremonies are great, but many volunteers need more immediate feedback on the value of their work.

A simple thank you can be invaluable.

Potential Recognition Strategies

A strong recognition program provides both appreciation for all volunteers and recognition of outstanding service. Using a combination of recognition methods is the most effective way to continually communicate your appreciation of your volunteers' efforts.

Formal Recognition Strategies

  • awards, like those offered by the Florida Bar
  • plaques and certificates
  • luncheons and dinners
  • publishing honor rolls of participating attorneys like the State Bar of Georgia
  • educational opportunities like free courses for CLE credit
  • internal communications, such as newsletters
  • external communications on social media or the website

Informal Recognition Strategies

  • personal thank
  • office space
  • staff presentation on volunteer accomplishments
  • invitations to staff events unrelated to volunteer projects when appropriate