Why pro bono is crucial for your employer brand strategy

group volunteers arm in arm

For Pro Bono Week, our CEO Melissa Davis reflects on the wider benefits of pro bono to organisations and individuals, following Fifth Day founder Fred Banning’s astute comments in our recent whitepaper.

Pro Bono Week is 21 this week. A fully-fledged adult week in the legal calendar which showcases all the good work the legal profession does every year without always getting the credit.

Ahh, I hear some cynical voices say, but these ‘fat cat’ lawyers all get paid so much they should work for free from time to time.

Some may agree but it shouldn’t detract from the causes and cases to which lawyers dedicate their time – unpaid – every month.

Except, here’s the thing, it’s no longer just lawyers. It would be a mistake to pretend it was. Pro bono and a commitment to ESG isn’t just for those of us with a law certificate on the wall.

Not just for lawyers

When we compiled our recent report ‘What Lies Ahead? Facing the challenges together’, which we launched at the IBA Conference in Miami last week, one contribution struck me in particular as I read it with Pro Bono Week on the horizon.

It came from Fred Banning, the best legal PR in the business, who founded the organisation Fifth Day to promote the contribution of business services teams in law firms to pro bono work.

Fred pointed out that now, as the profession modernises, anything between 30 percent and 60 percent of colleagues work in areas other than legal work – IT, HR, Marketing, Business Development, Operations, Finance, and more.

“It leaves a huge amount of talent, skills and energy on the table to overlook those staff when thinking about how to engage with ESG,” he said – and he’s absolutely right.

Doing our bit

That’s why we’ve always chosen to give plenty of time to support certain organisations on a pro bono basis and will continue to do so. It’s part of our DNA and we’ve got considerable experience to share. And crucially, our team wants to do their bit to help causes and people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to senior level advice and expertise. Most importantly, I know it supports their discovery for purpose.

It’s something we get asked about more and more when people join us and it’s something we all need to be aware of, in whatever part of the legal sector we work.

ESG, community and charity are increasingly part of people’s make up and aspirations, especially with younger generations coming into the profession all the time. They don’t just want to be able to give something back, they expect their employers to enable it, and give them the time to do so.

As Fred put it rather succinctly in our report: “No-one will care about record PEP (profits per equity partner) if the world is on fire.” I couldn’t put it better myself so, with apologies to him, I’ll just quote him.

And this applies to business support services as much as anyone. Recruitment is becoming more difficult in all areas of legal resourcing. How firms present themselves – their employer brand and how they engage their employees – is ever more important. Genuine commitments to community and pro bono are differentiators which will drive people’s career and employer choices, regardless of their skill set or job title.

It is, as we hear increasingly these days, about purpose as much as PEP. How people feel, not just what they earn. How businesses operate, as much as focusing solely on what they do.

Seeing pro bono differently

Pro bono doesn’t just have to be about giving back. It’s also a great way to help break down silos in your business.

Worried your lawyers don’t understand or know their colleagues’ roles in business support, or vice versa of course, and how it can benefit them and their clients? Let them work together on a pro bono project.

Tired of trying to get different legal teams to work collaboratively and create more value for clients and for the business? Bring them together with charity or community work.

It’s time to view pro bono, ESG, charity and the like in a different way. It’s for everyone, not just lawyers. It’s essential for employer brand and recruitment in the most competitive market we’ve seen. And it’s also the right thing to do.

Happy 21st birthday Pro Bono Week. Your next landmark birthday will be in nine years’ time. By then, hopefully, the legal sector will be working together, across teams and across that awkward legal/non-legal divide.

Those who need our support – unpaid – will be the biggest beneficiaries. And that’s really all that matters.

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