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At a time when corporate ethics and social responsibility are a topic of national debate, a record number of general counsel gathered in Washington, D.C., last month to discuss in-house pro bono efforts. Although structured, formal pro bono programs at corporate legal departments are still, for the most part, in the early stages of development, pro bono efforts are advancing quickly. At the Pro Bono Institute’s Feb. 20 and 21 Third Annual Forum on In-House Corporate Pro Bono, pro bono leaders and supporters from in-house legal departments met with their peers and the leaders of major law firms and public interest organizations throughout the nation and the world. The forum provided an opportunity to address the role of pro bono publico in taking corporate responsibility � legal and otherwise � beyond simply avoiding misconduct to the larger arena of corporate good citizenship. This includes accountability to key stakeholders and the communities in which companies are located, and where their employees live and work. During the past year, a number of law departments have finalized comprehensive written pro bono policies. Many have used this as an opportunity to hone the mission and goals of their company’s pro bono efforts, heighten the visibility of pro bono at the department, and publicize the range of opportunities and support available to lawyers and other legal department staff willing to volunteer their time and expertise. The Coca-Cola Co.’s pro bono policy, available on the CorporateProBono.Org Web site, at www.cpbo.org, is an excellent example of a solidly constructed policy that addresses the issues commonly raised by pro bono in the corporate context. As formal pro bono efforts mature, legal departments are playing an active role in identifying a wider range of pro bono opportunities for their lawyers and staff. In light of the substantial number of nonlitigators in legal departments, it is not surprising that in-house counsel have sought out pro bono practices that mirror corporate skill sets, including transactional pro bono work for nonprofit community groups and legal advice and counsel. However, departments increasingly are promoting a broader range of pro bono work. At Sears, Roebuck and Co., for example, this includes representation of low-income individuals in civil legal matters, such as access to subsidized housing, and a project on wrongful convictions. Pfizer Inc. and the Hilton Hotels Corp. sponsor adoption projects, while John Hancock Financial Services and Coca-Cola provide legal services to the elderly. The General Motors Corp., Merck & Co., the ExxonMobil Corp., and the State Farm Insurance Cos., all with long-running pro bono efforts, have become involved in domestic relations matters for low-income individuals and families. To a far greater extent than law firms, in-house legal departments value pro bono opportunities that can engage the support and participation of department staff at all levels � attorneys, legal assistants, nonlawyer professionals, and support staff. As a result, in-house programs often link pro bono and community service projects, so that lawyers and nonlawyers alike can be leaders and core participants in these efforts. Examples of such “bridge” efforts include Sears, where the legal department assists low-income tenants while also participating in nonlegal efforts to promote home ownership, particularly among persons of color. SUSTAINED GROWTH? A number of legal departments represented at the forum reported substantial increases in active volunteers; in some departments, the number of lawyers with active pro bono matters jumped 25 percent over the past year. At the same time, the more intense pace of work for in-house lawyers, and the increased complexity and sensitivity of the issues presented by their corporate client � typically without a corresponding increase in department capacity � create a concern for a number of departments about their ability to sustain interest and participation in pro bono. Forum participants focused on the need to fashion pro bono projects that can be successfully and comfortably undertaken in the context of the realities of the corporate legal work environment. These considerations include the smaller size of most legal departments relative to major law firms, heightened work pressures, their physical location � in some instances, at a distance from pro bono groups � and the more complex situation faced by some in-house lawyers with respect to malpractice insurance and non-admission in the jurisdiction. To leverage their more limited human resources, a growing number of legal departments are participating in effective and sustained partnerships with law firms, public interest organizations, and other legal departments. The concept of partnerships is not new. Indeed, at the forum, State Farm was honored for its 25-year partnership with and support of Prairie State Legal Services. However, during the past year, the pace and nature of partnerships has evolved quickly. Increasingly, legal departments are involved in targeted/thematic partnerships, focused on a particular client group or area of the law. One partnership highlighted at the forum � a joint venture between Goulston & Storrs and a major Boston bank � brought together a law firm and the bank’s commercial lending department to create a much-needed Vietnamese community center. Using the tools that sustain successful partnerships in the commercial context, in-house departments working with law firms, public interest groups, and others often designate a relationship partner, forge agreements concerning the scope of their joint venture, and thoughtfully invest time and resources in familiarizing themselves with their partners’ strengths and needs. CORPORATE INNOVATION While in-house corporate leaders at the forum often looked to their colleagues in law firms and public interest organizations for guidance in identifying pro bono opportunities and establishing formal programs, they were also the source of innovative approaches to blending corporate imperatives with pro bono work. Corporate innovations identified at the forum include: • The application of corporate social responsibility principles to pro bono. The corporate approach to CSR, including the concept of the triple bottom line and how corporate social responsibility can add value to businesses, has applicability in the context of designing, valuing, and evaluating pro bono efforts. Clearly, some corporations understand the business case for pro bono and how to effectively target pro bono efforts that not only address critical human and community legal needs, but also advance core business goals for law firms and corporations. These include skills development, recruitment and retention of the most talented and dedicated lawyers and staff, marketing and good will, and much more. • Creating a nexus between pro bono and charitable giving. Corporations consciously link their volunteer and charitable giving efforts through programs like “dollars for doers,” in which companies make financial contributions to nonprofit community groups where their employees volunteer. • Exploring the link between diversity and pro bono. Corporations increasingly value diversity and its inclusion in their own work force and reward vendors, including law firms, that demonstrate convincingly a corresponding commitment to these values. Pro bono programs, which typically focus on service to underserved and disenfranchised families and their communities, can become a key element in creating and sustaining an environment truly committed to inclusion. • Blending community service and pro bono. With their emphasis on voluntarism for the entire team, in-house legal departments have taken the lead in fashioning projects that provide rewarding volunteer opportunities for lawyers and nonlawyers alike. The impact of their thinking on major law firms can be seen in the growing trend toward differentiated, but integrated, pro bono and community service programs at many firms. • Globalization. With a focus on emerging markets, corporations increasingly view every aspect of their operations, including corporate social responsibility, through a global lens. As major law firms expand their practice and their offices to better serve their clients, they, too, are more open to � and enthusiastic about � the challenging effort to secure a steady stream of pro bono opportunities and enhance the pro bono culture in their non-U.S. offices. The forum, in summary, offered corporate legal departments an opportunity to learn about in-house, law firm, and public interest practices that could be replicated in their departments. At the same time, corporate participants were able to teach about their many innovations that support voluntarism and good corporate citizenship in the business context. These, in turn, can enrich the pro bono practices of firms and public interest groups. The Pro Bono Institute Annual Seminar and Forum, in bringing together these three critical groups, offers an opportunity for learning and cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives. The sight of so many leading lawyers coming together to seek better ways to give of their time and skills is an inspiration to us all. Esther F. Lardent is the president and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. The PBI, together with the Association of Corporate Counsel, sponsors CorporateProBono.Org, a national outreach and technical assistance project designed to enhance the pro bono culture and performance of corporate in-house legal departments.

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