There has been growing interest among legal departments in collaborating with colleagues beyond the legal department in their pro bono efforts. Some departments want to increase impact by broadening participation by their colleagues outside the department and demonstrate the value of pro bono for their companies. Other legal departments seek to deepen their pro bono program by aligning pro bono work with wider company priorities and leveraging skills and expertise across the company to tackle critical access to justice issues.
We invited Miri Miller, Associate General Counsel and global pro bono program lead at Dentsu Aegis Network**, to share how her legal department decided to take an expansive approach early in its pro bono program to align with the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy.
At Dentsu Aegis Network, we are working to close the access to justice gap by devoting our legal skills to pro bono clients through our global legal pro bono program, and by leveraging non-legal employees’ creative, media, marketing, project management, data, and analytics skills to drive awareness of legal rights and sources of pro bono legal assistance. Because Dentsu Aegis Network is a multinational media and digital marketing communications company, we believe we have a responsibility to share our marketing communications skills to improve access to justice.
Dentsu Aegis Network’s legal pro bono program is fairly new. We spent the first half of 2017 designing the program and establishing partnerships with pro bono providers and law firm partners, and formally launched the program during that summer. The program came into its own in early 2018 because our legal pro bono ramp-up (and internal marketing to build engagement) coincided with Dentsu Aegis Network’s publication of The Digital Society Index, a report about how new digital technologies impact people’s optimism about the future.
Aligning Pro Bono with Corporate CSR
The economy is evolving into a “digital economy” because every industry is being transformed by technology and connectivity. This transformation is disrupting how businesses operate, how employees perform their job functions, and how consumers obtain information, goods and services.
The Digital Society Index is the result of a survey conducted by Dentsu Aegis Network, in partnership with Oxford Economics, of 20,000 people around the world to understand how they feel about the future in light of the digital transformations taking shape. The Digital Society Index pinpointed that distrust (due to insufficient transparency) and inequality (namely, a widening of skills gaps among socio-economic groups) are major issues that prevent disadvantaged communities from adapting to the new digital economy.
Dentsu Aegis Network consequently pivoted its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy to help ensure that no one is left behind as the economy transforms. A key pillar of this CSR strategy is that all employees should use their professional skills for good through skills-based volunteering, predominantly through projects aimed at remedying inequality by teaching new digital skills to disadvantaged communities, particularly youth, and by providing free marketing communications services to non-profits working to further similar objectives.
What does that have to do with access to justice? Millions of people currently lack equitable access to legal aid. Among the most significant reasons for this access to justice gap is because people don’t know their rights, and even when they do, they are unable to find and connect to affordable or free legal services. We believe that when people know their legal rights and understand they will have access to legal aid when needed, they will place more trust in the system and be willing to participate more ambitiously in the digital economy. As a result, we bridged our legal pro bono program with Dentsu Aegis Network’s global CSR objectives, recognizing the value of engaging colleagues outside the legal department to improve access to justice.
Collaboration by Design
We reshaped our pro bono program with collaboration as a main objective to create relevant and meaningful pro bono projects for our legal team, as well as for non-legal colleagues across the Dentsu Aegis Network. Aligning our pro bono program with the global corporate CSR objectives affords us several benefits, including: harnessing collective enthusiasm across all volunteers, legal and non-legal, based on shared goals; a deeper willingness by senior executives to collaborate on pro bono initiatives because we are helping them further their own teams’ CSR goals; and hands-on support from the company’s CSR personnel.
It helps enormously that our Group General Counsel, Simon Zinger, is deeply passionate about pro bono and CSR, and recognizes that doing pro bono work allows lawyers to develop and use “leadership skills to pursue and achieve positive change across some of the most essential pillars of a modern and humane society.” His commitment to making our pro bono program a success is a key driver of business executive buy-in of our vision of expanding legal pro bono efforts outside of our legal department.
Activating a Support Network
If you think employees outside of the legal department will be uninterested in contributing to access to justice and legal pro bono matters, think again. Civic engagement has increased in recent years. People actively seek ways to contribute to local communities and personal causes. They patronize businesses that have heart. They want to work for companies that allow them to undertake skills-based volunteering with measurable impacts on society. For many, equitable access to justice, regardless of socio-economic status, is a top-of-mind, meaningful cause. Survey your colleagues and I bet you’ll find many people who are enthusiastic about collaborating with the legal department to make a difference. Literally. Conduct a survey. I did! I found that many of my non-legal colleagues were eager to document their interest in working together and often followed up via email or phone call to learn specifics. I’m turning the survey results into a database of available volunteers willing to contribute their skills to pro bono matters.
Opportunities for Colleagues Outside the Legal Department
Just as Dentsu Aegis Network is deploying its wide-reaching communications, marketing, advertising, media and data resources to improve awareness of legal rights and sources of pro bono legal assistance, there are ways that any department can expand pro bono out of the legal department.
- Project Management: Many pro bono organizations are working with limited resources that must stretch further than ever expected. Great project managers can help pro bono providers improve their processes and organizational structures in order to become more efficient. Some of our pro bono work has involved helping non-profits improve legal and compliance policies. Non-legal colleagues have recently offered to help with reviewing and suggesting improvements to commercial and business practices and policies.
- Resource Development: Speaking of efficiency, pro bono providers often have fantastic documents, practice guidance, topical legal research and other such resources, but need assistance making them more user-friendly and sharable – or even turning them into self-help guides for people who are unable to secure counsel. Some of this work will require lawyers, but plenty of it won’t!
- Translation Services: Identify foreign language skills of colleagues outside the legal department. Interpreters are always in demand to assist with translation when working with pro bono clients from immigrant communities. Video calling and web-meeting technology means that interpreters may not need to be in the same location as the lawyers or clients. Interpreting services can become almost on demand! My survey-turned-database of volunteers included an inquiry about language skills so that we can pair volunteers based on translation needs, where appropriate.
- Research and training: Non-attorneys inside and outside the legal department can assist with non-legal research (e.g. country condition research for asylum matters), as well as preparation of guidance reports, training materials and other such tasks for which an artistic eye and mastery of presentation, publishing and video production are helpful. For example, a colleague in the UK conducted English and Spanish language country condition research in connection with US asylum work undertaken through, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND).
- Discoverability: Leverage internal marketing, communications and/or PR personnel to assist with access to justice awareness. In one of our earliest cross-department collaborations, a social media manager helped a legal aid organization develop social media marketing strategies aimed at increasing pro bono attorney volunteering in the aftermath of a natural disaster. More recently, we launched a large-scale initiative to leverage our employees’ marketing and communications skills to improve people’s knowledge of their legal rights and encourage more lawyers to do pro bono work in the aftermath of natural disasters and emergencies. We kicked off the program with an “IdeaJam Hackathon” that began with a presentation about disaster legal services and the challenges in educating communities and mobilizing lawyers. Participants were divided into six diverse teams. Each team included people from different agencies, seniority levels and departments (e.g. media planning, communications, data analysis, creative); The teams were given 24 hours to design innovative campaigns to improve the delivery of disaster legal services. The resulting work was stunningly creative! We are now developing plans to produce the results. To build excitement and a stronger sense of teamwork for this initiative, I branded the initiative as Ad2J to highlight the power of advertising to improve access to justice (A2J).
Many resources from across the legal industry – and from outside of it – are needed in order to close the justice gap. By working with our colleagues outside of the legal department, we expect to exponentially increase our impact.
To learn more about Dentsu Aegis Network’s pro bono program and collaborations, please email email@example.com.
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
Special thanks to Miri Miller for her contribution to this post.