The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
May 23, 2011

Management Support for Pro Bono: Non-Negotiable

The PBEye is always on the look out for good pro bono news — and we found it in a recent article,  “Six GCs Who’ve Made a Difference,” which chronicles the careers of six exceptional general counsel.  Among others, the article profiles Michael Helfer, general counsel and corporate secretary at Citigroup, Inc.*, for his remarkable commitment to pro bono. 

Helfer’s arrival at Citigroup in 2003 paved the way for the growth of the department’s pro bono program.  Having practiced for 27 years at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP**, which has a deeply ingrained pro bono culture, Helfer brought with him to Citigroup the desire to implement an in-house program.  He envisioned and began developing a more impactful program.  The program really took off in 2006 when Citigroup attorneys were dispatched to the Gulf Coast to assist displaced residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Dozens of Citigroup’s attorneys logged hundreds of hours on Katrina-related pro bono work, in the region and from their offices.  Without Helfer’s leadership and support, such a large-scale and dedicated program would not have been possible.

Helfer himself recognizes the importance of management support.  “If you’re going to have a good pro bono program, you need support from the top,” says Helfer, who credits former CEO Chuck Prince with providing just that.  Helfer says Citigroup’s current leadership has continued to provide tremendous support for the program.

Citigroup is not alone in its experience.  Corporate Pro Bono has worked with hundreds of legal departments and can easily say that those with strong management support for pro bono are, not coincidentally, the departments with the most successful pro bono programs. 

One of the greatest predictors of in-house pro bono success is strong leadership.  Support from senior management can assuage legitimate concerns that attorneys and other staff may have about devoting work time and other company resources to pro bono.  It can also inspire and encourage those unsure or unaware to get involved.

Do you know of an outstanding in-house leader? If so, drop us a line below and let us know — we’d love to hear from you!

*denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM
**denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®