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10 Best Practices for New(er) Corporate Pro Bono Programs

Over the past few months, we’ve received inquiries from dozens of in-house teams looking to formalize their pro bono programs. In response, we’ve compiled 10 best practices across 30 corporate teams that have been shown to increase engagement, broaden impact, and make pro bono workflows more seamless when scaling your program:

  1. Encourage engagement from senior leaders. Having a General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer’s support for a pro bono program from the start is a strong signal to the rest of the department. Their words and engagement not only set the tone for a sound pro bono culture, but also encourage others to find time to give back.
  2. Tie pro bono goals to company CSR goals. Oftentimes, corporations have external Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pillars such as education, workforce empowerment, or financial literacy to which you can tie pro bono initiatives. Aligning legal pro bono work with overarching CSR goals leads to a broader company support and ultimately, greater impact.
  3. Assemble a Pro Bono Committee across offices. Having local leadership promote pro bono is powerful in both increasing visibility in the community and encouraging their teams to get involved. A Committee structure doesn’t have to be complex — one monthly or quarterly meeting to report out on activities should suffice.
  4. Start with fewer, high quality opportunities. Offering a large volume of pro bono opportunities across legal services partners straight off the bat might be too overwhelming or incoherent with broader company goals. Consider selecting a few local legal services organizations (LSOs) partners who can provide strong support and training to get attorneys comfortable with new work. Paladin can help identify which LSOs regularly work with in-house teams to make the process seamless.
  5. Be conscious of malpractice insurance requirements. Oftentimes, in-house teams don’t have the same malpractice insurance policies as large firms that cover pro bono, so you’ll want to partner with LSOs that can provide such coverage. Paladin can help you identify those organizations to mitigate risk.
  6. Set up standing team-wide opportunities to increase engagement and enhance team building. We’ve found that corporate teams often have success with standing (monthly, quarterly) clinics, CLE training sessions, hotlines, and virtual services such as ABA Free Legal Answers. Attorneys are sometimes unsure of signing up for matters when the commitment is unclear, and events are a great way for lawyers to limit scope, embrace the social aspect of pro bono, and get volunteers comfortable with recurring work.
  7. Involve legal professionals. Paralegals, legal secretaries, and other legal professionals are just as important to the success of pro bono matters as they are to the day-to-day operations of the company. Involve the entire department for better team cohesion, morale, and support.
  8. Utilize technology to save time and money. Platforms such as Paladin help source well-aligned LSO partners, intelligently share casework, and manage/report on engagement. These functions are key to ensuring your team is not wasting valuable time. Save up to 80% of administrative time for higher leverage partnerships and new impact initiatives through advanced tech tools.
  9. Team up with outside counsel. Collaboration with outside counsel often makes it possible for a corporate team to take on interesting casework they might not be able to otherwise due to firm resources (e.g. larger immigration cases, clemency work, etc.) And, law firms love when they get to build relationships with their clients! Reach out to your outside counsel to see what opportunities for partnership they might be able to offer.
  10. Recognize and celebrate your volunteers often! Pro bono volunteers are heroes, and the more you can celebrate their stories and impact, the better. Put out a monthly newsletter to the department highlighting success stories, award lawyers who achieve a certain number of hours per year, or run a Pro Bono Month (October) competition to see which teams can have the greatest impact. Sharing impact stories through social media and other outlets are also a great way to showcase your work to the public.

We’re always here to be a resource and discuss how we might support the growth of your corporate pro bono program, so feel free to reach out to me at kristen@joinpaladin.com at any time with thoughts or questions.

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