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Law & Social Inquiry



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Law firm pro bono work provides access to justice to low-income people and other vulnerable populations. The professionals that manage pro bono programs are at the forefront of that process. The limited available research on these professionals do not often distinguish lawyers from other managers or theorize about their status vis-à-vis other law firm lawyers. Yet the status of lawyers who are also managers of pro bono programs influences both their identities and the management and provision of legal services and advocacy. Drawing on original demographic and interview data, this article shows how law firm pro bono partners and counsels navigate their ambiguous roles and negotiate their status as lawyers and managers. I find that pro bono partners and counsels navigate their ambiguous roles by striving to be perceived as “real” lawyers, reframe their roles as business generators, conform to the billing culture, and establish a common identity. They also negotiate their titles and office spaces to raise their profiles. Gender inequality influences the negotiation of office spaces and the approval of pro bono matters. These findings have implications for lawyers who manage pro bono programs and the legitimacy of pro bono work.

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