The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
September 23, 2011

Predicting the Future by Shaping It

At a time when so there is so much uncertainty about the economy and the future, it may seem counterintuitive that PBI is seeing a growing trend in requests for assistance in undertaking strategic planning focused on pro bono from law firms and legal departments.  Upon reflection, however, the growth in this part of PBI’s consultative services practice is not surprising.

Given the profound shifts in law firm and legal department overall policies and practices, taking a long hard look at the firm or department’s pro bono program to ensure that it is complementary to and fully aligned with the organization’s future directions and plans makes good sense.

What kinds of strategic planning work are we doing?  It literally spans the globe and includes:

  • Helping a mid-size national law firm ensure that its pro bono program – in terms of focus, message, and leadership – is fully aligned with the firm’s overall mission and goals;
  • Working with a major legal department as it works to rationalize its charitable giving efforts and tie them more closely to its strongest pro bono partnerships with public interest groups and to establish a framework for responding to the growing number of requests for funding;
  • Providing consultation services to a regional firm that has experienced a complete shift in top firm leadership.  The firm’s new leaders are not familiar with the pro bono program or with law firm pro bono in general and are requesting information about performance and benchmarking by peer law firms;
  • Designing and facilitating a two-day strategic planning session for the pro bono and CSR-responsible managers and senior partners of a major global law firm with the goal of better integrating and aligning the firm’s CSR and pro bono efforts and creating an overarching pro bono global framework for the firm;
  • Designing a multi-office signature project along with developing a workplan and timeline for it, for a large legal department that is moving from a multi-faceted, low-key pro bono effort to a targeted pro bono program aligned with the company’s strengths and anchored by the legal department;
  • Producing a multi-office strategic planning retreat to flesh out a legal department’s revamped and amped up pro bono project; and
  • Assisting a law firm in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of its current pro bono governance and staffing structure and designing a more effective pro bono oversight function at the firm.

More than virtually any other type of confidential consultation services provided by the Pro Bono Institute, strategic planning efforts – even those that are limited in scope and focus – require a substantial commitment of time and resources on the part both of PBI and the law firm or legal department requesting assistance, so our availability to provide these services is limited and is available only to Member law firms and to legal departments that support our work.  Undertaking this work may entail on-site visits and other costs that the firm or department must underwrite.  Despite these limitations and restrictions, we believe, based on the success and impact of our efforts to date, that pro bono strategic planning is a vitally important tool in maintaining and enhancing the vitality, performance and impact of pro bono.  If you’re considering undertaking a pro bono strategic planning effort, we’re available to discuss possible approaches and, where appropriate, to provide hands-on help.  Interested law firms should contact Tammy Taylor, while legal departments should contact Eve Runyon.

Has your law firm, legal department, or nonprofit group undertaken a strategic planning process focused on pro bono?  We’d love to hear more about it.

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