2011 In-House Pro Bono Lessons Learned

The PBEye thinks there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel.  Having worked with hundreds of legal departments on their pro bono programs since 2000, CPBO knows that while each program is unique and reflects the particular characteristics, interests, and culture of the legal department, there are a number of common issues that legal departments face in starting and growing pro bono programs.  So that legal departments may learn from each other, CPBO publishes best practices profiles that highlight the experiences of various legal departments and share lessons they have learned.  Below is a list of the 10 most common lessons learned.

1.)    General counsel and management support is key for the creation and growth of an in-house program.

2.)    Growing a successful program requires planning.

  • Investigate the interests of the legal department, the needs of the community, and the available resources.
  • Create a structure that allows your department to maintain a program.  This may vary depending on the size and culture of the department, but it is important to determine policies, appoint a committee or administrator, and identify partners.
  • Screen projects and provide training for volunteers.

3.)    Aligning pro bono with the company’s larger corporate social responsibility and philanthropic efforts brings benefits.

  • Doing so may help in securing company-wide support and foster a deeper sense of connection to the company among members of the legal department.

4.)    A pro bono committee or program administrator is key to success.

  • Committees and administrators can manage a listing of pro bono opportunities, disseminate information, oversee logistical aspects of the program, communicate with partners, and plan recognition events.

5.)    Offer projects that vary in subject matter, skills and expertise required, and time commitment, as well as opportunities for non-lawyers.

  • Volunteers’ interests evolve, and opportunities offered should reflect interests.
  • For many in-house lawyers, time limitations present the most significant obstacle to providing pro bono.  One way to mitigate this issue is to offer shorter-term pro bono engagements such as clinics that do not require continued representation.
  • Many successful programs offer opportunities for both lawyers and non-lawyers to get involved.

6.)    Partnering offers numerous benefits.

  • Law firm partners offer expanded resources and capacity as well as training opportunities.
  • Legal services organizations or other public interest groups can screen clients, may provide malpractice insurance, and may also offer training.

7.)    Use technology to expand pro bono service and simplify participation for volunteers.

  • Technology allows volunteers to reach clients in remote places.
  • Use an internal department-wide website to house pro bono policies, current opportunities, information from partner organizations, and articles and awards highlighting the department’s work.
  • Offer web-based training so that volunteers can select a time for training that works with their schedule.

8.)    Pro bono teams add great value and can address concerns.

  • Matching volunteers with experience in a particular area of pro bono work with others who are interested in that type of work is a great way to facilitate cross-department relationships and foster team building.
  • Forming pro bono teams also provides volunteers with support in case of a time conflict or change in staffing.

9.)    Recognition and other incentives encourage involvement in pro bono programs.

  • Department-sanctioned awards demonstrate that pro bono participation is not only permitted, but it is encouraged.

10.)     Use existing resources.

We’d love to hear from you about what lessons you learned in 2011 — leave a comment below and tell us about them!