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05 - Tracking Pro Bono Hours

Best Practices in Pro Bono:
Tracking Pro Bono Hours

The Best Practices in Pro Bono Guides were created to provide a model for pro bono programs and increase consistency in pro bono work across organizations. The guides present concise practical information on implementing and maintaining pro bono programs and projects. The cont ent in this section was created by Diane Fears, Director of Career Services and Student Voluntary Pro Bono Program, Wayne State University Law School, and Tonya Jupiter, Adjunct Lecturer in Law and Assistant Director of Pro Bono Programs, Tulane Law School.

What is the Existing Landscape for Tracking Pro Bono Hours?

Currently, there are some 237 la w schools in the United States. The majority of them have either a formal pro bono program that requires students to perform a set number of hours of law-related public service or a voluntary program i n which the law school offers a referral system and/or administrative support to students who volunteer to provide a certain number of law-related pro bono service hours in the community. See https://www.americanbar.org/groups/probono_public_service/resources/directory_of_law_school_public_interest_pr o_bono_programs/pb_programs__chart.html, for a list and descriptions of law school pro bono programs.

For a variety of reasons including certification and recognition, it is important for a pro bono program to have internal systems to track student participation. Thus, programs must (1) provide resources to t rack data; and (2) encourage students and/or supervisors or hosts to track hours. There is wide variation in the way existing pro bono programs track student participation. M any of the respondents to a recent survey conducted by the AALS and NALP Pro Bono Collaboration Group reported the use of paper forms and timesheets to track hours. However, significantly more respondents reported use of commercial platforms such as Symplicity, 12Twenty , Higher Logic and Mobile Serve, proprietary software created by the school, or other methods to track student pro bono hours.

The apparent trend reflects the sentiment expressed by the National Center for Access to Justice in its 2013 policy recommendation for development of a law student software application in an effort to strengthen law student pro bono participation and, thereby, increase access to justice. Among other things, the recommendation stated:

Software is needed to enable student s to report the number of hours of volunteer activity per formed, and the nature of the activities performed. The system should allow students to easily enter the data, record hours approved by supervisors, and maintain a running total of hours served. Ideally it would enable supervisors to confirm students’ hours online.

Volunteer Management Systems from Paper to Paperless

The goal here is to identify the pros and cons of the principal systems in use for tracking pro bono hours of student participants in law school pro bono programs. Consideration of these factors should better enable you to identify and implement a tracking system best aligned with your budget, and the needs of your program or project.

Notwithstanding the type of pro bono program offered by a law school or kind of volunteer management system (or lack thereof) in place, survey participants consistently expressed a preference for the following helpful features for recording, reporting and supervising volunteer efforts.

  • Ease of Use

    System that supports seamless recordation, tracking, certification and oversight of volunteer service hours in a mobile environment an d provides automated communications and surveys to volunteers and sites.
  • Efficiency

    One system to provide centralized and streamlined administrative control (dashboard) to process placement requests, track service hours by individual, class, skills and organizations; allow volunteers t o record time and obtain site approval/certification of hours from any device (laptop, desktop, cell phone) anywhere in the world with internet access.
  • Reporting and Analytics Capability

    A feature that provides consistent real-time verification and accurate reporting on service work with exportable and customizable reports on service hours and outcomes, such as individual volunteer service hours, total community service hours provided by the school or each cl ass; major community service partners based on yearly service hours record ed; types of services provided by volunteers; precise end of year reporting at the push of a button that analyzes and summarizes hours contributed to the delivery of legal services by students to individuals or public interest partners.

Recommendations and References

Use Technology to Transform Volunteer Hours Tracking Efforts

While some law schools continue to rely on paper forms to manage their pro bono programs, there is a noticeable shift towards the use of reporting/management systems that rely upon technology for efficient data collection and analytics. Paper-based forms, while simple to use, ultimately are rife with problems that can impact efficiency, accuracy and degree of responsiveness. Paper forms can be labor intensive, especially if digitizing the forms; time consuming to collect, process, organize and analyze for 12 reporting purposes ; often hard to read; and easily lost, ignored or forgotten by busy students!. For a discussion of the hidden costs to paper forms, see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140720202957-137218978-part-2-hidden-costs-of-paper-forms-vs-web-forms.

On the other hand, the costs (a nd benefits) of technology based systems can be tailored based upon your budget and ingenuity.

Free

Some schools reported their use of free and open source technology like Google Forms which allow you to create interactive data entry forms, perform rudimentary time tracking and permit data collection to a spreadsheet and ability to run reports and do math. For further discussion of free tools for volunteer management, see: https://blog.capterra.com/free-volunteer-management-software-options/ and https://www.trackitforward.com/content/google-apps-free-tools-volunteer-management.

Commercial

There are number of web-based commercial platforms that can provide a customizable and flexible product for your specific programmatic needs, e.g. Symplicity, 12Twenty , Higher Logic and Mobile Serve. Costs may include initial cost to purchase; monthly or yearly subscription cost and additional fees for support or upgrades and multiple administrators or users.

Proprietary

Some schools, through their in-house technology departments, have developed their own digital customizable timekeeping system for pro bono programs and externships which mirrors many of the features and functionality of commercially available software without the costs or long-term contracts.

The best practice for you and your program or project depends o n a variety of factors including the school’s budget; student body size or number of student participants; and the nature and breadth o f the program or project (e.g., voluntary or mandatory). Cost should not a determinative factor given the existence of readily available, free volunteer management software and applications. Schools utilizing traditional paper-based forms should consider incorporating mobile technologies to ensure a m ore efficient, responsive and flexible volunteer tracking and reporting system.

Category: Pro Bono

Tags: Pro Bono