The Business Case for Pro Bono – Myths and Reality
There are so many reasons to undertake legal pro bono, but a reason that is often overlooked is that pro bono makes business sense.
There are so many reasons to undertake legal pro bono, but a reason that is often overlooked is that pro bono makes business sense. Pro Bono Week 2018 saw Advocates for International Development (A4ID) team up with LawWorks to discuss ‘The Business Case for Pro Bono’. This short blog piece outlines some of the key takeaways that can be cleverly deployed to convince those sceptical of legal pro bono.
Held on 23rd October 2018, hosted by Norton Rose Fulbright LLP and moderated by A4ID’s Learning and Development Manager, Toby Collis, the discussion addressed some of the issues that could be perceived as obstacles to firms undertaking pro bono work. Stimulated by arguments against pro bono work, the panel unpacked the huge benefits that pro bono work can bring to a firm.
It indirectly boosts revenue.
Whilst pro bono work does not directly create revenue, however, Rob Powell, the Head of Pro Bono and CSR at Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP noted that pro bono boosts revenue in more ways than is often realised. Rob noted that of all questions asked by prospective graduates, those about the firms’ pro bono capacity are the most frequent. This generation of graduates are more engaged with pro bono than any generation before them, and attracting the best graduates is one way that pro bono boosts revenue.
It’s useful for all lawyers – junior and senior.
Some advocate that pro bono should be for trainees and junior lawyers, providing them with experience across various practices while building their skills and confidence. However, as noted by the panel, it is difficult to sustain a well-integrated model of pro bono if only junior lawyers are engaged. Furthermore, as endorsed by both Rob and Amy Grunske, the Head of International Pro Bono and Community Responsibility at Orrick, the benefits of pro bono are not limited to junior lawyers. Amy noted that pro bono work provides perfect training for Senior Associates, giving them the experience of managing client relationships and internal teams that ready them for partnership.
It’s a great marketing tool.
For some, discussion of the financial and commercial benefits of pro bono is somewhat awkward, even contentious. Yet, pro bono must appeal on more than just an altruistic level for firms; there has to be a beneficial return on their investment. The panel therefore noted the importance of Pro Bono teams working closely with marketing, to ensure that pro bono work is communicated effectively. Many clients are interested in whether firms undertake pro bono work and with such a diverse and competitive legal market in the UK, engagement with the wider community will only serve to strengthen a firm and its brand.
Getting everyone on board.
The panel recognised the difficulty communicating the business case for pro bono to some lawyers, and the challenge of getting some lawyers to undertake any pro bono at all. James Sandbach, the Director of Policy and External Affairs at LawWorks, noted the usefulness of building pro bono into the internal processes of the firm, rather than simply relying on an individual lawyer’s own initiative. Both Amy and Rob noted the importance in championing lawyers that both fulfil their billable hours and undertake pro bono work.
Use a brokerage!
Membership of a brokerage such as LawWorks or A4ID can provide such projects. Brokerage undoubtedly has value for firms without an established pro bono practice, allowing them to outsource the timely task of sourcing impactful pro bono work. There is also value for larger commercial firms as they can receive a continual stream of varied projects. However, membership equates to more than just pro bono projects, as it facilitates networking and shared best practice, access to events and participation in a collective community of pro bono providers.
Although the discussion has demonstrated that there is a ‘business case’ for pro bono work, this is not why firms and individuals undertake pro bono work. It has always been a core part of the legal profession, part of its DNA, and lawyers are one of the only professions that provides its core skill on such a large scale for free. The discussion highlighted a myriad of ways to convince a reluctant firm or lawyer to go on the pro bono journey, and inevitably it’s about finding the right key to unlock a lawyer’s willingness to do pro bono.