Doing Well By Doing Good: Pro Bono Representation

Pro bono service, unlike traditional volunteerism, uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them. It is most common in the legal profession and increasingly seen in marketing, architecture, business, design, and law. According to the Taproot Foundation, “For those who feel drawn to high-powered jobs and to public service, pro bono work offers the opportunity to live richer, more fulfilling lives by putting their specialized professional skills to work for the greater good. Perhaps more importantly, pro bono work fundamentally changes the identity of the profession and brings a sense of nobility and purpose to the craft.”  

An interview with Brent E. Routman, President 2011-2012, Minnesota State Bar Association

Why is it valuable for attorneys to promote pro bono efforts? 

As lawyers, we have a special responsibility in society to ensure that everyone has adequate and effective access to justice, and that our judicial system functions well. There is an overwhelming need for lawyers to step up to the plate at a time when state and federal funding of civil legal services and public defender services have been reduced by nearly 20 percent and the need for assistance has grown by the same amount in the last three years. We also have an obligation under the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 6.1) to provide pro bono representation to clients who can’t afford our services. Volunteering pays dividends in terms of practice experience reminds many why they became lawyers in the first place.

Minnesota is known on a national scale for providing pro bono legal services. Why do you think this is true? 

We have a long history of collaboration between the private bar, civil legal services providers, and the court system in Minnesota. For example, the MSBA created the Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee over 30 years ago to provide a forum for addressing the legal needs of low-income people. I think our colleagues—years ago—recognized that we have an obligation to ensure access and were forward-thinking in how they chose to do this. Many of our larger private firms were leaders in national efforts such as the Pro Bono Challenge to institutionalize pro bono work in law practices.

Are there any “unwritten rules” to working with pro bono clients? 

You have to provide the best quality representation regardless of whether or not you are getting paid by your client. That’s an ethical obligation. Also, it’s important to remember that pro bono clients come to you in times of distress and you need to remember that you are helping them navigate a system that seems foreign and hard to understand.

What can you tell our readers about ProJusticeMN? 

ProJusticeMN is a collaboration between the MSBA, Minnesota Legal Services Coalition and ProBonoNet (a non-profit based in New York that provides websites for pro bono lawyers nationally). It was started over a decade ago as a way of providing practices resources to pro bono and legal services lawyers on the web. It has grown and changed over the years to include truly helpful case materials and trainings to help lawyers in practice, and now includes a case placement feature that allows lawyers to search for volunteer opportunities as well as set up email alerts. It’s the singles best practice resource for the pro bono lawyer on the web.

Are there requirements set by the State Bar to do pro bono work? 

The Minnesota Supreme Court sets forth the professional responsibility rules for lawyers and adopted Rule 6.1 many years ago. It strongly encourages, but does not require, lawyers in private practice to do 50 hours of pro bono service each year for low-income clients. We are the only profession that has such a rule, as far as I know.

Does the State Bar offer reimbursement opportunities for pro bono work? 

The pro bono programs are managed by each individual non-profit legal services organization. The State Bar assists them with finding volunteers and supporting pro bono work overall, but each organization handles the logistics. Each organization varies on whether they will help volunteers with the cost of expenses such as court filings or mileage.

Would you like to add anything else? 

If you are an attorney in Minnesota, we need your help to meet the justice gap in our state. Please contact Pro Bono Development Director Steve Marchese at the MSBA at and he can connect you with legal services organizations that can use your assistance. We also urge all licensed attorneys within the state to join the AMICUS Society. It is free to join and members commit only to providing five hours of time in a year to educate the public on the rule of law, role of the courts, and adequate funding for the entire judicial system (the courts, civil legal services, and public defenders). For more information, please contact Brent at

Giving Back

Many local companies give back to the community, whether through pro bono efforts, direct giving, foundations, donations, volunteer programs, or matching gifts. Here is a list of top corporate giving programs in Minnesota:

3M Company | St. Paul

ADC Telecommunications, Inc | Eden Prairie

AgStar Financial Services, ACA | Mankato

Alliant Techsystems Inc. | Minneapolis

Allianz Life Insurance Company
of North America
| Minneapolis

Ameriprise Financial | Minneapolis

Andersen Corporation | Bayport

Apogee Enterprises, Inc. | Minneapolis

Best Buy Co., Inc. | Richfield

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
Minnesota | Eagan

Cargill, Incorporated | Minneapolis

Carlson Companies, Inc. | Minnetonka

CenterPoint Energy Minnegasco | Minneapolis

Ceridian Corporation | Minneapolis

CHS Inc. | Inver Grove Heights

Deluxe Corporation | Shoreview

Donaldson Company, Inc. | Bloomington

Dorsey and Whitney LLP | Minneapolis

Ecolab Inc. | St. Paul

Edina Realty, Inc. | Edina

Federated Insurance Companies | Owatonna

First National Bank Bemidji | Bemidji

General Mills, Inc. | Minneapolis

Graco Inc. | Minneapolis

H.B. Fuller Company | St. Paul

Hickory Tech Corporation | Mankato

Homecrest Industries, Inc. | Wadena

Hormel Foods Corporation | Austin

Hutchinson Technology

Incorporated | Hutchinson

Imation Corp. | Oakdale

International Dairy
Queen, Inc.
| Minneapolis

Jostens, Inc. | Minneapolis

Land O’Lakes, Inc. | Arden Hills

Larkin, Hoffman, Daly &
Lindgren, Ltd. | Minneapolis

Lawson Software, Inc. | St. Paul

M. A. Mortenson Company | Minneapolis

Malt-O-Meal Company | Northfield

Medtronic, Inc. | Minneapolis

Minnesota Power, Inc. | Duluth

Minnesota Timberwolves
Basketball Limited Partnership
| Minneapolis

Minnesota Twins | Minneapolis

Minnesota Vikings Football Club, LLC | Eden Prairie

Minnesota Wild Hockey Club, LP | St. Paul

Nash Finch Company | Minneapolis

Northwest Airlines Corporation | Eagan

Opus Corporation | Minnetonka

Padilla Speer Beardsley Inc. (PSB) | Minneapolis

Pentair, Inc. | Golden Valley

Polaris Industries, Inc. | Medina

Rahr Malting Co. | Shakopee

RBC Wealth Management | Minneapolis

Red Wing Shoe Company, Inc. | Red Wing

Reell Precision Manufacturing
| St. Paul

Regis Corporation | Edina

Riverway Co. | Bloomington

Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. | Minneapolis

Schoeneckers, Inc. | Minneapolis

Securian Financial Group, Inc. | St. Paul

Security State Bank | Hibbing

Sit Investment Associates, Inc. | Minneapolis

SJE-Rhombus Controls | Detroit Lakes

St. Jude Medical, Inc. | St. Paul

Stahl Construction Company | St. Louis Park

Star Tribune Media Company LLC | Minneapolis

SUPERVALU INC. | Eden Prairie

Target Corporation | Minneapolis

Tastefully Simple, Inc. | Alexandria

TCF Financial Corporation | Wayzata

Tennant Company | Minneapolis

The Mosaic Company | Plymouth

The Prophet Corporation | Owatonna

The Schwan Food Company | Marshall

The Specialty Mfg. Co. | St. Paul

The Toro Company | Bloomington

The Valspar Corporation | Minneapolis

Thomson Reuters Legal | Eagan

U.S. Bancorp | Minneapolis

UnitedHealth Group Incorporated | Minnetonka

Wenger Corporation | Owatonna

Xcel Energy Inc. | Minneapolis

—Courtesy of The Craftsmanship Center

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