Over the past few decades, corporations have joined the ranks of pro bono pioneers, in significant numbers creating their own pro bono programs and leveraging their relatively small in-house counsel resources through partnerships with nonprofits, law firms, and bar associations. Although many corporations predictably help by providing advice on corporate law matters, other areas, like family law, contracts, veterans’ assistance, are also common. This chapter authored by verizon's in-house counsel looks at Verizon's pro bono initiative, which has grown to engage more than 70% of its U.S. attorneys over the past five years in representing domestic violence survivors, veterans, immigrants, and nonprofit groups.
Fifteen years ago, only a small number of corporate legal departments had pro bono programs. Today, legal departments of all sizes across a wide range of industries are participating in pro bono. The majority of Fortune 100 companies and many of the Fortune 500 have created, or are moving to create, formal pro bono programs. To help improve the effectiveness of these efforts, corporate legal departments are working with partners – law firms, legal service organizations, bar associations, and Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Chapters – to provide pro bono services.
There are a number of reasons for this growth. Companies are increasingly focused on social responsibility, and pro bono creates opportunities for the legal department to participate in skills-based volunteer efforts. Many in-house lawyers were introduced to strong pro bono programs in prior law firm jobs and wish to continue participating in similar meaningful work. Finally, the success of in-house programs has created a virtuous circle, as the accomplishments of pioneers in this area have challenged and encouraged other companies to get involved.
OVERVIEW OF IN-HOUSE PRO BONO
Hundreds of companies have developed and implemented formal pro bono programs. Despite a number of challenges facing in-house lawyers – constraints on time and resources, obtaining malpractice insurance, a perceived mismatch of legal experience and client needs, and ethics restrictions – many still participate in a wide range of pro bono efforts.
According to a recent Benchmarking Report published by Pro Bono Institute, legal departments are providing pro bono assistance to a wide range of communities in need.