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How Legal Ops Can Advance In-house Pro Bono

Legal ops professionals can use their management expertise to coordinate and optimize the legal department’s pro bono program, helping it reach new levels of efficiency, maturity, and impact.

In-house pro bono programs have flourished in corporate legal departments of all sizes and across industries over the past 15 years. Here, we review the business case for in-house pro bono, how the legal ops skillset benefits the pro bono program, and effective tools to manage the program. 

The value of the pro bono program

Legal ops professionals not involved in their departments’ pro bono programs — or whose departments do not have such programs — may be wondering: Why pro bono? Of course, delivering pro bono legal services benefits the communities in which the company’s employees live and work.  

Moreover, given the insufficient legal aid resources in the United States, 86 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans go unmet. Volunteer lawyers and legal department professionals can provide assistance to low-income individuals who would otherwise lack legal representation on critical issues, including education, immigration, housing, and economic development. 

But there is also a business case for in-house pro bono programs. Pro bono benefits the legal department’s operations, including: 

  • Recruitment and retention. Pro bono offers legal department attorneys and professionals an opportunity to gain leadership skills and obtain professional development. Pro bono also increases personal job satisfaction, increasing the likelihood that employees stay in the department. This cuts the costs of hiring and training new employees. 
  • Improved employee morale, integration, and engagement. Teams of attorneys and staff who may not usually work together can staff pro bono matters, which accelerates team building. Increasing employees’ engagement in the department through pro bono may improve employees’ overall productivity and performance. Participation in the program may drive motivation and loyalty to the company. 
  • Integration with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Companies engage in CSR projects to solve societal problems and improve sustainability. A CSR profile gives a company a marketplace advantage and has a positive impact on the community. Pro bono may leverage the legal department’s skillset in furtherance of the CSR mission. 

Why legal ops leaders excel as pro bono leaders 

Increasingly, departments are recognizing that legal ops professionals are well-suited to run the pro bono program or support its volunteer leaders. Legal ops brings specialized expertise, including: 

  • Change management. Departments that have not engaged in or prioritized pro bono, or are seeking to expand their efforts or increase participation, may need to effect change to achieve growth. Because legal ops work closely with the CLO, they can help set the tone from the top. 
  • Knowledge management. Legal ops can be the repository of information about pro bono opportunities, trainings, and partners, and compile resource guides for employees. 
  • Technological expertise. Legal ops can select tools that improve communications, data collection and analysis, and pro bono matter management. 
  • Outside counsel hiring. Because legal ops manage outside counsel request for proposals, they can hold outside counsel accountable for their pro bono efforts.  

Best practices for legal ops in pro bono 

There are many strategies for effective management of pro bono programs. Best practices include: 

Implement metrics tools 

Measure the program’s impact by collecting data, such as 1) hours of pro bono legal services delivered, 2) number of pro bono clients served, and 3) participation rates to benchmark the department against the industry standard set forth in the CPBO Challenge® initiative (participation of 50 percent of the legal departments’ employees annually). 

Integrate pro bono with other initiatives 

Integrating the pro bono program with CSR, diversity and inclusion, community services, or a corporate foundation can improve efficiencies, find synergies, and increase the overall impact of these initiatives. For example, legal ops can steer the pro bono program toward 1) serving communities or organizations that are already part of the company’s CSR portfolio, or 2) delivering legal services to support CSR objectives such as gender equality, poverty reduction, and sustainability. 

Carefully select pro bono partners 

Examine the quality of the training and resources that law firms and legal services organizations offer to the department. Search for opportunities that align with volunteers’ preferred subject matter interests and time commitment to boost participation. 

Effectively use technology and communications tools 

Identify technology solutions to circulate pro bono opportunities, track ongoing matters, recognize volunteers, and celebrate successes. For example, legal ops can produce internal communications that champion the pro bono program and its achievements to the department and the company. This benefits recruitment and demonstrates the value of the program. 

Conclusion 

These are a few ways that legal ops professionals can use their skills to help in-house pro bono programs achieve operational excellence, benefiting the community, the legal department, and the company overall. For more information, resources, and best practices for in-house pro bono programs, visit cpbo.org. And register for the upcoming webcast “How Legal Ops Can Advance In-house Pro Bono” on February 25 at 12 pm EST.


This article originally appeared in January's edition of ACC's Legal Ops Observer.

About the Author

Alyssa SaundersAlyssa Saunders is the director of Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a global project of the Pro Bono Institute (PBI). CPBO is the premier resource for legal departments and Association of Corporate Counsel chapters interested in building or expanding their pro bono programs. Before joining CPBO, Saunders was an attorney in the litigation department at Cooley LLP, where she had an active pro bono practice. Find her on LinkedIn.


The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.