Making a Case for Pro Bono

For over a decade, PBI has promoted the “business case” for pro bono. Indeed, PBI’s research suggests that the benefits of pro bono outweigh the costs of starting and maintaining a pro bono program. In particular, pro bono engagement can help a law firm or legal department recruit and retain talent, develop the professional skills of its attorneys, and increase employee engagement.  This is a case PBI reiterated for law firms in a 2010 law review article and for in-house departments in a 2013 paper. So The PBEye was heartened to see the business case argument compellingly made this month in a piece by Jim Middlemiss in the Canadian Lawyer. As Paul Belanger, co-chair of the Financial Services Regulatory group and co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee at Blake Cassels & Graydon  bluntly notes, “We’re in a war for talent. Young people want to be able to do something that is meaningful to them. You need to offer a robust pro bono program.”

Photo: Sara Tyson
Photo: Sara Tyson

The article cites four interest-based reasons for how law firms and legal departments can improve their performance while also doing good for society via pro bono:

  1. Better recruitment: Currently, most high school students are required to volunteer to secure their diploma. Attracting talent requires responding to this volunteering seed planted during their school days.
  2. Improved retention and training: Pro bono can provide opportunities for skills development and an opportunity for rewarding work — benefits which may reduce associate attrition and its significant economic costs.
  3. Corporate social responsibility: Canadian companies are increasingly involved in community initiatives, and their general counsels are examining metrics such as diversity and gender when choosing to hire law firms. Such metrics may increasingly include pro bono service. Firms that fail to engage in pro bono risk losing out on such selective clients.
  4. Increased profile and profitability: Middlemiss, citing PBI’s original 2000 paper, “Making the Business Case for Pro Bono,” notes that a major law firm’s managing partner quoted in that paper highlighted that every dollar spent on pro bono generated 10 times that value in good publicity and heightened visibility for the law firm.

Middlemiss closes with an urgent conclusion — there’s a survival case to be made for pro bono, so do it if you want your firm to stay in business.  A strong sentiment, but one with which The PBEye can agree!