One of the ways to increase pro bono activities within
in-house legal departments is to closely align them with the company’s ethos and its global corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. One such example of the complementary nature of Global CSR and pro bono programs is the work done by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which have garnered numerous awards and recognition for the company.
IBM’s legal department’s pro bono activities routinely match with the company’s CSR initiatives through such programs as IBM’s employee Corporate Service Corps and On Demand Community. In 2011, IBM celebrated its 100-year anniversary by encouraging employees to volunteer their time to charity projects at an unprecedented level. In addition to volunteer hours, the company’s Centennial Celebration of Service provided nearly $12 million in grants to approximately 4,000 nonprofit organizations.
The support of social responsibility efforts included IBM’s legal department, whose members volunteered their skills for these programs—in addition to their existing pro bono projects. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the legal department approached ShelterBox, a nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that responds in the immediate aftermath of disasters. The team of volunteers sought to help address the disaster-relief needs in Japan and provide broader legal assistance to ShelterBox’s operations. Specifically, attorneys reviewed the organization’s intellectual property, strengthened their corporate governance, and revised internal policies.
IBM’s work with ShelterBox has grown exponentially. IBM approached the law firm Baker & McKenzie*† to help deliver additional pro bono resources. Together, lawyers from both organizations have provided information and guidance related to international regulations impacting employees, volunteers, and beneficiaries of response efforts, such as providing information and guidance related to regulations impacting ShelterBox’s international staff and volunteers who were assisting families displaced by conflict in Syria.
This partnership capitalizes on the differing talents of each organization by matching attorneys to a variety of organizational needs. In addition to the legal services, both organizations inspired others to support the nonprofit financially, allowing the organization to more effectively and efficiently deliver more aid to the world’s most vulnerable people.
Separately, in 2012, IBM attorneys also devoted many hours on weekends to provide pro bono disaster relief assistance after Superstorm Sandy hit New York City. They partnered with the New York City Bar Justice Center and others to start and staff pro bono legal clinics and helping to galvanize and coordinate other volunteers.
In 2014, IBM broadened its partnership with the City Bar Justice Center and participated in two important projects: the Veterans Assistance Project and the Immigrant Women and Children Project. Through this partnership, dozens of IBM attorneys provide legal assistance to veterans seeking disability benefits, and to crime victims, including domestic violence victims, needing immigration relief.
To find out more about aligning corporate social responsibility and pro bono, access our on-demand webinar on the topic.
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
†denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project