Planning Your In-House Pro Bono Budget

As the U.S. continues to learn, it’s important to think about budgets early and often.  While many of us are still in summer mode, it is never too early to start thinking about your legal department’s 2012 pro bono budget.  Many budgets are due by the end of the third quarter so that they can be discussed and, hopefully, approved by year end.  End of third quarter is less than 40 days away.  Has your department started thinking about it?

As The PBEye previously reported, CPBO conducted an in-house pro bono benchmarking survey for 2010.  Survey says!

  • Nearly 46 percent of the legal departments that responded include pro bono in its department’s annual budget.

  • How much?  Of those who responded:
    • 60 percent budget more than $6,000;
    • 13.33 percent budget between $4,000 and $5,000; and
    • 26.67 percent budget less than $1,000.
  • What happens when costs threaten to exceed the budget limit?
    • 63.64 percent – may exceed with approval
    • 18.18 percent – may exceed
    • 9.09 percent – the bank is closed
    • 9.09 percent – policy doesn’t address it

For those new to administering a pro bono program or drafting a budget, you may be wondering what costs to consider.  A few include:

  • Publications — newsletters and the like.  As recently reported in The PBEye, some legal departments are reporting their great work in a print annual report;
  • Recognition — a small award or token for those who manage or administer the pro bono program and/or those who participate.  Examples we have heard of are mugs, plaques, contributions to the awardee’s favorite charity, gift certificates to local restaurants, and tickets to a baseball game with the general counsel;
  • Transportation — some organizations cover the costs of their volunteers’ travel to and from pro bono programs;
  • Sponsorships — if you are considering co-hosting an event, such as Clinic-in-a-BoxSM, the costs and fees involved;
  • Refreshments — food and/or drinks at organization-sponsored events, such as trainings, kick-off meetings, committee meetings and pro bono events;
  • Communications — long-distance telephone calls and postage.  Some legal departments also print special pro bono letterhead;
  • Conference Attendance  — the Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference features sessions for seasoned pro bono pros as well as newcomers to the field, networking opportunities, and special events with pro bono leaders and visionaries.  The upcoming conference will be held March 28 – 30, 2012 in Washington, D.C.  Early registration discounts will expire early in the New Year.  Best to obtain budget approval now;
  • Insurance — this can be an issue for legal departments.  If you plan to obtain malpractice insurance for your organization, the cost of membership to an association that offers a policy and the premium (such as NLADA) or the premium to purchase coverage directly (if unable to add such coverage to an existing policy for free);
  • Court Costs, Application Fees, Translation Expenses, Etc. — if a pro bono client must incur expenses related to the case and is unable to pay, consider if your organization will cover some or all of the amount; and
  • Charitable Contributions — it is important to consider supporting the organizations that you work with – whether they be legal service organizations that provide and coordinate opportunities for your volunteers, the nonprofits to whom you provide legal pro bono services, or CPBO, which provides you with pro bono infrastructure support.

All of these items may be covered in your organization or legal department’s general budget and need not be broken out, but it’s important to check.  You do not want to invest time planning a wonderful pro bono project only to find out the funds to support it aren’t there.  Instead, The PBEye recommends using the last days of August to research, plan, and prepare so that 2012 can be your best pro bono year yet!  And, we’re happy to consult with you as you plan — just contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.