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Creating Positive Pro Bono Partnerships: Takeaways from the 2018 Joint Firm and Corporate Pro Bono Roundtable

Whole Group 2

On April 19th, 40 representatives from Illinois law firms and corporate legal departments met at the Illini Center for PILI’s Joint Law Firm & Corporate Pro Bono Roundtable. For the first hour, law firms and corporations met separately to discuss pro bono challenges and strategies specific to their organizations and for the second hour, they met together to discuss opportunities for positive collaboration. Thank you to Pattishall McAuliffe for hosting.

Law Firms: Leveraging Resources to Grow Pro Bono Programs

Law firms discussed how to leverage resources for pro bono work within the firm as well as external vendors. They discussed enlisting the marketing department to help promote pro bono projects to volunteers and clients, as well as spotlight the success of projects after they’re completed. Someone also suggested reaching out to trial vendors who do a lot of paid work for the firm and ask if they would be willing to donate their services for a pro bono case. Several attendees also suggested leveraging the power of firm leadership to promote pro bono from the top down and making pro bono participation a part of the partner review process. Leadership can also require that all summer associates take on a pro bono case, helping to promote and engage attorneys in pro bono from the beginning of their careers.

Corporations: Involving Everyone in Pro Bono

Since many of the corporations who attended either don’t have their headquarters in Chicago or have other offices outside of the city, this group discussed what pro bono opportunities are available to those in the suburbs. Several attendees suggested pro bono opportunities that attorneys can do at their desk, including working the Equip for Equality special education helpline, answering questions on Illinois Free Legal Answers or providing advocacy over the phone with LAF’s SNAP Pro Bono Project. This group also discussed ways to leverage pro bono resources including, like law firms, engaging senior leadership and spotlighting successful pro bono projects. They also discussed the importance of engaging every practice group and for setting goals for pro bono participation.

Joint Discussion: Engaging in Positive Pro Bono Partnerships

In the separate discussions, law firm and corporate leaders had candid discussions about the pros and cons of partnering on pro bono projects. All the participants overwhelmingly agreed that pro bono partnerships were a positive experience to help involve more attorneys, strengthen relationships and serve more clients. There did seem to be an assumption that after a clinic or project, law firm attorneys would take the bulk of the work back to the office to wrap up any loose ends, and some corporate and law firm attorneys alike felt this wasn’t always appropriate. All agreed that it was important to set up clear expectations in the planning stages of a program and to come up with a plan on how the work would be divided. There was also a suggestion that pro bono attorneys move beyond a bi-lateral approach and allow for multiple law firms and/or multiple corporations to be involved in a pro bono project. Law firms can invite more than one of their clients to join a project and corporations can invite more than one outside counsel firm to join. This would allow for more work to be done and clients to be served.

Additionally, several law firm participants agreed that it would be useful for corporations to ask their outside counsel for reports on the pro bono activities of their specific outside counsel. They thought this would help encourage pro bono participation even more than asking for general pro bono participation statistics.

Finally, participants shared some of their pro bono successes around partnerships and marketing pro bono programs. They thought it was important for pro bono projects to be included in corporate newsletters and to show they were being good pro bono citizens.

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