Two Decades of Exceptional In-House Pro Bono

In 2020, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), the global in-house project of Pro Bono Institute (PBI), celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and published the 2020 Benchmarking Report, the sixth biannual report on the state of in-house pro bono. When CPBO was first founded, in-house pro bono was far less common than it is today. Within a decade, in-house pro bono programs had multiplied and expanded. To track and measure pro bono engagement, CPBO began surveying in-house pro bono leaders about their legal departments’ pro bono programs in 2010, and every other year thereafter. Many of the Benchmarking Survey respondents are signatories of the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, while others are departments with robust programs that participate in CPBO and PBI programming, including the PBI Annual Conference. These reports capture the growth, development, and expansion in in-house pro bono environments.

Over a decade of CPBO Benchmarking Surveys, in-house pro bono leaders have shared important information about their pro bono programs, on issues including program administration, policies, insurance, engagements, communications, budgets, global pro bono, and more. As CPBO looks back on the past decade of pro bono, we congratulate and recognize all Benchmarking Survey respondents.  We especially thank the following departments who participated in three or more surveys for their consistency and dedication: American International Group, Inc. (AIG)**, Boston Scientific Corporation**, Cargill, Incorporated**, Comcast NBCUniversal**, Deere & Company**, Discover Financial Services**, General Mills, Inc.**, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company**, MetLife, Inc.**, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company**, The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.**, Shell Oil Company**, Target Corporation**, U.S. Bancorp**, United Airlines Holdings, Inc.**, Verizon Communications Inc.**, and Walmart Inc.**

Pro Bono Engagements
It’s thanks to the many pro bono volunteers that legal departments collectively devote tremendous amounts of time offering aid to low-income individuals, families, nonprofits, and small businesses through pro bono work. Looking over the six Benchmarking Reports, the top five areas of law in which legal departments have concentrated their pro bono efforts over the years are the following: Corporate Law (including representation of nonprofits), Contracts or Commercial Law, Family Law, Immigration Law, and Real Estate (including Landlord/Tenant cases). The top five client populations served are low-income/minority groups, children/organizations assisting children, nonprofits generally, immigrants, and veterans/emergency responders.

Devoting Time and Funding
CPBO is proud to highlight that from 2010 to 2020, consistently 95% or more of responding legal departments were permitted to engage in pro bono service during normal work hours. This demonstrates the generous amounts of work that these departments do to give back to the community. Companies have also supported pro bono no matter the amount of their budget allocation; they have successfully supported pro bono programs with both large and shoestring budgets. In addition, a majority of the legal department respondents have allowed their staff to exceed the budgeted amount for pro bono if necessary, with approval.

As demonstrated on Graph 1, the trend of partnerships between legal departments and law firms stayed strong throughout the decade. Similarly, Graph 2 shows that partnerships between departments and legal services providers have maintained strength after 2010. Lastly, Graph 3 displays that the partnerships between responding legal departments and their in-house peers in other departments have risen over the decade.

Graph 1:

Graph 2:

Graph 3:

Celebrating Pro Bono Volunteers 
Although most legal departments do not consider pro bono work in their evaluations, they celebrate participants for their wonderful work! Some of the ways that volunteers have been acknowledged are through recognition at department meetings, awards, newsletters, ceremonies, and in annual reports.

Global Pro Bono
Legal departments had the highest engagement in global pro bono participation when it came to their attorneys and legal staff abroad working on matters in their jurisdiction. The most common types of global projects that members of legal departments participated in were educational/training programs, research, document drafting, assisting with applications, transactional work serving nonprofits, and clinics. Overall, Graph 4 shows engagement in global pro bono since 2012.

Graph 4:

* The 2010 Benchmarking Report did not ask about global pro bono.

Moving Forward
Despite the barriers that COVID-19 continues to place, CPBO is confident that departments will continue to participate in pro bono work in the decade ahead! In the future, we look forward to a high level of participation in our 2022 CBPO Benchmarking Survey. We commend all volunteers who continuously dedicate their time to pro bono, and the leaders of in-house pro bono programs for their efforts and commitment.

Interested in learning more about how in-house pro bono programs have developed over the years?  Check out the prior Benchmarking Reports here:

2010 Benchmarking Report

2012 Benchmarking Report

2014 Benchmarking Report 

2016 Benchmarking Report

2018 Benchmarking Report

(Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatories, 2020 Benchmarking Report respondents, and Law Firm Pro Bono Project members receive a free copy of the 2020 Benchmarking Report. Others can purchase the report by contacting

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Thank you to PBI intern Cynthia Yepez for drafting this blog.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]