The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
May 8, 2012

In-House Values Firm Pro Bono

Do legal departments value the pro bono performance of their outside firms?  The answer is a resounding yes!  In fact, it’s increasingly clear that legal departments are using various ways to show  just how much law firm pro bono means to them.

Requests for Proposals and Selecting and Evaluating Outside Firms
According to a 2010 survey of CPBO ChallengeSM Signatories conducted by CPBO, more than 50 percent of responding Signatories inquire about the pro bono performance of their outside law firms.  Twenty -seven percent of responding legal departments include questions about pro bono in their requests for proposals (RFPs).   For example, some legal departments ask the question, “Does your firm have an active pro bono program?”  Other legal departments ask, “Is your firm willing to partner with your business clients on pro bono projects?”  CPBO also found that 35 percent of responding Signatories consider a law firm’s pro bono commitment when evaluating outside counsel, and 30 percent ask whether their outside law firms are Signatories to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge.

The PBEye knows of several legal departments, including those at The Clorox Company**, Merck & Co. **, and Walgreen Co.**, whose general counsel have expressly stated that  they consider pro bono performance when selecting outside counsel.  At the recent PBI Annual Conference, Walgreen Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary Tom Sabatino shared with attendees that pro bono performance is one of the factors he considers when vetting outside firms.

Pro Bono Awards
Another way legal departments demonstrate their interest in law firm pro bono is by publicly acknowledging outstanding firm pro bono work.  For example, in 2011, Dell Inc.** presented the first annual Pro Bono Excellence Award to Vinson & Elkins LLP*† for its work with Dell at evening legal clinics and to Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, P.C.* for its collaboration with Dell on transactional work for nonprofits.  Dell recently honored Baker Botts LLP*† with their 2012 Pro Bono Excellence Award.  The award is an excellent example that legal departments value their firms’ commitment to pro bono.

In-House and Law Firm Pro Bono Partnerships
Other departments demonstrate their interest by partnering with outside counsel on pro bono.  CPBO found in its 2010 survey that 78 percent of responding Signatories partner with outside counsel on pro bono matters.  AT&T Inc.** Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel D. Wayne Watts recently said that “It is important that our lawyers at AT&T do pro bono and it is important that the law firms who work for us be committed to pro bono.”  He explained that offering to partner with in-house counsel on pro bono is a good way for law firms to get their foot in the door for paid work.  ExxonMobil Senior Counsel Susan Sanchez echoes Watts’ comments, noting that Exxon hires outside law firms after partnering on pro bono work.

As in-house pro bono grows, so does legal department interest in law firm pro bono.  Asking questions about pro bono in requests for proposals, presenting awards recognizing law firm pro bono, and partnering on pro bono projects are just a few ways that legal departments are demonstrating the value they place on law firm pro bono performance.

Let us know what you think by responding to our poll on this topic on the CPBO website.  What are some other ways legal departments demonstrate they care about the pro bono performance of outside firms?  Share your ideas in a comment below.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

One Response to In-House Values Firm Pro Bono

  1. John Ogden says:

    All law firms should take note of the foregoing information and add business development as one more major benefit pro bono provides to the firm along with its value in areas such as recruiting and training
    – John Ogden, Innovative Results LLC, –