The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
August 5, 2019

When In-House Pro Bono Programs Go Pro

As in-house pro bono has evolved and matured over the past two decades, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) has seen departments adopt different models for management of their pro bono programs that most commonly engage staff on a volunteer basis to oversee the department’s pro bono effort. According to CPBO’s 2018 Benchmarking Report, 88% of in-house pro bono programs have a pro bono committee and 57% of programs have a pro bono coordinator. However 8% of the responding departments pay someone to manage or coordinate the pro bono program. Over the years, some departments have elected to hire dedicated in-house pro bono professionals, ranging from a full-time employee to a part-time employee to a time-limited fellow; in other instances, an attorney divides time between pro bono responsibilities and business responsibilities. Other legal departments have tried out professional management of their pro bono programs and returned to volunteer leadership as a better fit.

CPBO recently interviewed companies that have hired dedicated pro bono professionals to better understand the various models of pro bono management. We spoke to these departments about choosing an appropriate management model for the company, the underlying decision-making process, and the advantages and challenges in hiring a pro bono professional.

Some common themes emerged from CPBO’s research and discussions with in-house pro bono leaders:

  • Decision-making: Generally, legal departments did not conduct a formal assessment to determine whether to hire a dedicated pro bono professional. Rather, the decision was made based on the experience and goals of the program administrators and leadership. There was a shared understanding that professionalization was the right move at the time the decision was made. The General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer of the department was the ultimate decision-maker in all cases about whether to hire a dedicated pro bono professional.
  • Models: The models for hiring a dedicated pro bono professional include: (1) a legal fellow or a full-time hire for limited duration; (2) a full-time employee, with no term limit; (3) a full-time hire who has a dual function and divided responsibilities between managing the pro bono program and handling company business; and (4) a part-time employee or independent contractor who works a limited number of hours on pro bono management.
  • Responsibilities: Depending on the goals of the legal department for the pro bono program, and whether the pro bono professional is a full-time, part-time, long-term, or short-term hire, the pro bono professional’s job responsibilities may include solely strategic tasks (such as implementing a strategic plan for or an expansion of the program), solely operational tasks (such as planning pro bono trainings and events, and maintaining the pro bono program’s website and calendar), or a mix of the two.
  • Benefits: Some of the benefits of having a professional pro bono manager include not trying to squeeze in work on the pro bono program around one’s day job; being able to take on bigger projects and goals; having more time to visit legal department staff in multiple offices to understand their interests and needs; and developing relationships with both external partners and other internal departments such as Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • Challenges: Some of the challenges of hiring a dedicated pro bono professional include expense, inability to add headcount in the legal department, or redistributing business responsibilities to create an opening for a pro bono professional within the existing headcount. Additionally, legal departments want to be mindful of striking the right balance so as not to concentrate so much responsibility and ownership for the pro bono program in the pro bono professional that it diminishes volunteers’ engagement in the pro bono program.

Will dedicated pro bono professionals become more prevalent in the next generation of in-house pro bono leaders? CPBO will continue to follow these developments in the coming year.

To learn more about management of in-house pro bono programs please contact CPBO.

Request PBI’s Paper on Professionalization of In-House Pro Bono