The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
October 31, 2012

ACC AM12: Aligning Corporate Social Responsibility and Pro Bono

Pro bono was an important part of ACC’s 2012 Annual Meeting. On October 2, CPBO sponsored a session titled “1 + 1 = 3: Aligning Corporate Social Responsibility and Pro Bono,” moderated by PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent, with panelists James R. Jenkins, senior vice president and general counsel of Deere & Company**; Ellen Lambert, executive vice president of The Merck Company Foundation (a private foundation funded by Merck & Co., Inc.**); and Ellen Rosenthal, chief counsel of the Pfizer Legal Alliance (a collaboration of Pfizer Inc.** and 19 law firms).

The panelists detailed multiple ways that legal departments can align their pro bono efforts with the company’s philanthropic, community service, and skills based volunteer efforts, including:

  • Thematic: identifying projects that support consistent themes or issues supported by community affairs and the legal department (e.g., education, combating homelessness, supporting veterans).
  • Structural: coordinating community affairs initiatives and policies with those implemented by the legal department (e.g., company-wide volunteer days, foundation managed intranet for volunteer).
  • Direct Services and Support: providing legal support to projects and organizations supported by community affairs (e.g., providing general counsel services to nonprofit supported by company foundation, providing legal support to clients of organization supported by company foundation).
  • Partnerships: working directly with community affairs department to organize a legal pro bono event (e.g., hosting pro bono clinics with community affairs department).
  • Financial Support: coordinating charitable contributions and legal pro bono efforts (e.g., funding legal service organizations, making charitable contributions on behalf of volunteers).

They also discussed the benefits of alignment, which include greater impact on clients and communities served, improved employee morale, and increased efficiencies in planning and communications. Of course, alignment requires effort and attention in order to avoid possible issues, which as the speakers explain, include diverting resources or attention from interests of individual volunteers, confusion between legal pro bono and community service work, and potential conflicts between legal responsibilities and foundation’s interests.

The session concluded with each panelist’s final thoughts on the topic.  Jenkins recommended that participants collaborate every time they have chance.  Lambert noted “[E]very issue we deal with has 360 degrees. On the CSR side we only see 180 degrees of that circle. When you talk to each other you will get close to 360 degrees. While you will never get it all, it helps both sides.”  Finally, Rosenthal advised, “Make an appointment with people who manage your CSR and look for opportunities to pair up with what they are doing.”

CPBO appreciates the time and hard work Jenkins, Lambert, and Rosenthal put into making our session such a success.  If you have any questions about the session, aligning CSR and pro bono or in-house pro bono generally, please contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.

** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM