Guest Blog: Pro Bono and Your Partner Retreat

McCarter & English Pro Bono Director Emily Goldberg

For a relatively new Pro Bono Director like me, the opportunity to present at the annual McCarter & English* partner retreat would ordinarily be an invaluable time to educate partners about our growing pro bono program. The only wrinkle: our 2011 retreat’s theme of “business development.” After a moment of panic (“I am a public interest lawyer, what in the heck do I know about business development?”), I realized that this theme would push me to educate the partnership about how a meaningful pro bono program can contribute to the bottom line — an important topic in these challenging economic times. We invited PBI’s Esther Lardent to speak about the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM and to provide “inside scoop” about the pro bono commitments of several large clients. For my part, I created a Power Point presentation entitled, “Top 10 Reasons Why Pro Bono Contributes to the Bottom Line.” The content went like this:

1. Our Clients Say Pro Bono is Important: Corporations are creating pro bono programs, and asking to do pro bono with us. Only firms with meaningful pro bono programs have partnerships with their corporate clients. I talked about McCarter’s partnership with Prudential Financial, and the fact that we took a death penalty case when asked to do so by the CEO of General Electric**.

2. Prospective Clients Say Pro Bono is Important: RFPs commonly ask about our pro bono work and want to see meaningful engagement. I provided examples of companies that asked us about pro bono in RFPs during the past 18 months.

3. Pro Bono is Great Press: I showed images of some of the media we have gotten in the past year, as well as of our most exciting pro bono awards. I also educated the partnership about pro bono “rankings” in the American Lawyer and the New Jersey Law Journal.

4. Pro Bono Provides Unmatched Training Opportunities: Our clients do not pay for inexperience; pro bono is the best place for associates to “practice” lawyering. I provided results of a survey identifying the number of associates who did pro bono trials, hearings, depositions, settlements, appellate briefs and oral arguments in 2010.

5. Judges Ask Us to Do Pro Bono/Appoint Us; Doing Pro Bono Solidifies and Builds Our Relationship with the Bench.

6. Pro Bono Facilitates Recruitment and Retention: Law grads care about pro bono opportunities when selecting firms. Crediting and compensating pro bono positively affects retention of top talent.

7. Pro Bono Work on Behalf of Minority Groups Shows Our Commitment to Diversity…Which Has its Own Connection to the Bottom Line.

8. Idle Hands… Meaningful pro bono opportunities must be available to attorneys during the “ebbs” in their practice. Idle hands do not further the bottom line.

9. Our Competition Is Doing Serious Pro Bono. Using charts that depicted pro bono hours per attorney in 2009, I demonstrated that we are “running with the pack” on pro bono: not yet doing as much as some competitor firms, but more than others. This quelled fears about our doing “too much” pro bono.

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Okay, so I lied…it was a Top 9 List of Reasons Why Pro Bono Contributes to the Bottom Line. Item Number 10 was the following slide: “Doing Good” is McCarter Tradition, and Our Professional Responsibility. It would have felt wrong to spend an hour talking about pro bono without discussing the great work we are doing and the people we are helping. So, I used the last 10 minutes of the program to discuss our exciting new projects in the area of Human Rights (including our cutting-edge microfinance project in Haiti), and showed a video about a compelling political asylum client.

People were clearly move by the presentation. And, more importantly, I received more than 30 emails and phone calls from partners saying how much they enjoyed learning about the value that our pro bono program brings to the firm.

A good retreat was had by all.

Emily Goldberg is pro bono director at McCarter & English, LLP. 

If you would like to contribute a guest blog to The PBEye, please contact Christina Gordon, director of strategic communications and stewardship with your proposed topic.  We would love to hear from you!  For more information about ways you can get on your partner retreat agenda or to get PBI staff at your retreat, please contact Law Firm Project Assistant Mary Baroch.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM