News Flash! You Don’t Have To Be a Lawyer to Do Pro Bono

While many associate “legal pro bono services” with attorneys, efforts have shown that paralegals and administrative staff in the legal departments of companies, as well as attorneys and professionals in other departments, are actively engaged in pro bono. There are many ways for employees, regardless of their title and position in a company, to provide pro bono legal services. To help companies navigate how to effectively engage legal department professionals and other company employees in pro bono, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) recently released a new paper on this topic. Here are key takeaways from CPBO’s new resource:

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Many companies have successfully engaged professional staff and employees outside the legal department in legal pro bono services and have done so in different ways. CPBO’s 2016 Benchmarking Report reported that professional staff participate in 92% of in-house pro bono programs.

Depending on the company and its pro bono culture, there are a variety of short-term or long-term pro bono engagements that can engage staff. Some companies select opportunities that are legal in nature but do not require a lawyer to complete the task, such as intake clinics, while others structure opportunities that contemplate involvement of their professionals and staff working in partnership and under the supervision of a lawyer.

The paper offers concrete examples of how various legal departments have expanded engagement to involve legal department professionals and staff, and attorneys and professionals outside the legal department. United Health Group** is an example of a legal department that created a project involving lawyers and legal department professionals alike to provide limited-scope pro bono assistance to review medical and military files for veterans seeking benefits. Dentsu Aegis Network** exemplifies another model of engagement in which the legal department engaged employees outside of the department in marketing, communications, and public relations to work on an initiative connecting communities to appropriate legal services. The paper details many more examples of pro bono projects engaging professionals both within and outside the legal department.

Do your homework first.

In order for any expanded engagement to succeed, the company should consider some key issues to ensure success. For example, does the company have a clearly-stated policy that any employee can engage in pro bono? Does the company have malpractice insurance for pro bono matters that covers professional staff and attorneys who work in other departments? Does the company have appropriate supervision for professionals and staff to prevent the unauthorized practice of law? The pro bono chair or committee can take the initiative in helping the company examine questions such as these. CPBO offers many resources to help on these topics, including a Guide to Professional Liability Insurance for In-House Pro Bono, FAQs for pro bono policies, and a Guide to In-House Pro Bono Multijurisdictional Practice Rules.

The paper also discusses key issues for consideration, such as training and recognition, as well as solutions to common challenges.

Broadening engagement benefits both the community and the company.

Broadening the pool of pro bono volunteers creates benefits for all those involved. It benefits the company by promoting employee engagement, reinforces corporate social responsibility objectives, builds relationships among employees who do not ordinarily work together, and enhances the reputation of the company. By encouraging lawyers and staff to work in teams, pro bono service builds morale and sustains continuing interest in pro bono engagement.

Broadening engagement also means that a company can have a greater impact in serving communities that cannot afford legal assistance. With a deeper bench of volunteers, a company can serve greater numbers of pro bono clients and take on broader access to justice initiatives more efficiently and effectively than if participation were limited to legal department attorneys.

To learn more about expanding a legal department’s pro bono program to include paralegals, support staff, and attorneys and professionals outside the legal department, read CPBO’s new paper here.


**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory