Going Above and Beyond with Pro Bono

What can senior partners and firm principals do to encourage pro bono work and champion its importance within the legal industry?

In light of a recent announcement by Gadens and Colin Biggers & Paisley that they will financially back a part-time policy lawyer at the Women’s Legal Service Victoria to contribute to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, many firms are re-evaluating their own pro bono contributions.

It is well accepted that pro bono work is fundamental to the facilitation of access to justice, and that all practitioners have a moral and professional obligation to give back to those in the community. However, it’s easy to lose sight of the benefits in the face of increasing commercial pressures.

A 2014 survey found that while there was on average a 16.6 per cent growth in pro bono hours spent per lawyer since 2012, participation rates fell 3 per cent, meaning an increasing pro bono load is being managed by fewer lawyers.

However, what most firms don’t realise is that the commercial realities of sacrificing commercial work to increase their pro bono share are not what they might expect.

The pros of pro bono

Many firms are finding that the added value and cost savings attributable to having a pro bono practice can actually offset the reduction in hours spent on commercial work.

  • Pro bono has been shown to enhance job satisfaction, firm morale and staff-retention rates.
  • It helps lawyers develop their professional skills and experience in a variety of practice areas.
  • An engaging pro bono program can differentiate your firm to aspiring graduates.
  • Voluntary community involvement elevates public recognition of your brand and strengthens your reputation.

So what can senior practitioners do to encourage pro bono work in their firms?

1. Make your commitment to pro bono clear

Don’t just talk about it – incorporate pro bono work into the firm’s normal business activities. Create solid policies and structures and make your commitment visible, both internally and externally.

2. Establish a pro bono committee

Appoint a diverse selection of practitioners to coordinate the sourcing of work, draft policies, recruit staff for pro bono matters and educate the firm on how they can get involved and the firm’s policies for taking on pro bono matters.

3. Don’t penalise practitioners for doing pro bono work

Instil confidence that pro bono work will not financially hinder either the practitioner or the firm. Establish transparent policies on how such time will be recognised in terms of productivity, performance evaluation, compensation and career advancement.

4. Establish mentoring systems

Help young lawyers acquire new skills by assigning them to work collaboratively on unfamiliar matters with an experienced partner or associate.

5. Make opportunities available for all to participate

Source a variety of pro bono work that will be interesting, stimulating and enjoyable for your lawyers. Publicise these opportunities within the firm and encourage all to contribute in some way.

There is more to a successful business or career than profits. So share the love, make a difference in your community and be one of the givers in your local legal profession.

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