The Pros of Pro Bono: the Business Bottom Line for Law Firm Pro Bono Work

The following is a summary of Esther Lardents seminal article, Making the Business Case for Pro Bono1. Studies have shown that the economic and structural benefits of pro bono work are immense. Firm-sponsored pro bono work saves firms money in both the short and long-term, while acting as an enticing incentive for employee recruitment and retention. A summary of the benefits pro bono work provides for firms are:

1. Advantageous Recruitment of New Lawyers. Todays generation of new lawyers have a heightened enthusiasm for pro bono and public service activities. Firms that encourage and support pro bono programs may appear more attractive to a pool of new lawyers deciding on which firms offer to accept. This is because when firms compete for new attorneys with matching pay and benefit schemes, other factors – such as attentive supervision, a supportive work environment, quality of life, and an effective pro bono program – often become the deciding factors for new lawyers choosing among firms.

2. Greater Retention of Valued Employees. A strong pro bono culture distinguishes a firm, gives the firm a sense of camaraderie, and encourages teamwork in support of the needs of the larger community. As a result, lawyers may feel less compelled to leave a firm due to feelings of dissatisfaction with their workload, or feelings of anonymity and isolation from their professional peers.

3. Greater Employee Retention Rates Cut Hiring Costs. The costs to hire and train new attorneys are one of the greatest non-productive expenses firms can make. Because firm-sponsored pro bono activities can increase the retention of partners and associates, such activities can save firms the costs of hiring and training new attorneys.

4. Enhancing the Development of Professional Skills. Unproductive/unsatisfactory performance, frustration at work, and a low morale have been linked to the absence of attentive and in-depth training opportunities at firms. When carefully structured, pro bono opportunities offer low-cost and in-depth skills training for participating attorneys that ordinary firm practices are unable to provide.

5. Greater Cooperation and Morale. Firm-sponsored pro bono activities provide lawyers and other staff an opportunity to work together for the common good. With this, a sense of oneness and belonging is instilled among firm members, combating feelings of fragmentation and isolation due to the complexities of a firms structure.

6. Supervision and Feedback. Lack of supervision and feedback is one cause of dissatisfaction among lawyers today. Yet when carefully structured, a firm-sponsored pro bono program can include networks of participants to provide meaningful feedback to each other. In addition, pro bono oversight provides lawyers with the opportunity to receive feedback on their abilities not employed in their commercial work.

7. Little to No Cost to the Firm. Pro Bono hours do not take away from billable hours. Many lawyers are willing to give their free time to pro-bono activities more than they are willing to give their free time to accruing billable hours. Pro Bono, therefore, becomes a hobby of sorts for lawyers and builds up the self-esteem of participating lawyers at no cost to the firm.

8. Advantageous Marketing Tools Unavailable Elsewhere. Because of the very nature of pro bono work, pro bono-related publicity – whether consciously advertised or not – is viewed as less self-serving and more credible than conventional forms of advertisement. Additionally, heightened public interest in specific pro bono issues are likely to receive more publicity and coverage than most commercial work undertaken by law firms.

9. Good Endeavors Are Good For Business. Research has shown that committing substantial resources to good-cause campaigns is good for business. As a result, major corporations are increasingly viewing philanthropy work as a strategic business practice. Not only are firm-sponsored pro bono activities beneficial to the firms public image itself, but pro bono work can also be the deciding factor for corporations looking for a more favorable public image.2

1. This is a brief summary of Esther Lardents Article, Making the Business Case for Pro Bono, published in 2000 on the Pro Bono Institute website. Jack Londen, The Economics of Pro Bono Work, 11 Center for Pro Bono Exchange 1 (1993) was also consulted for the summary.

2. The summary was composed by Michelle Grabiel, 2L at Lewis & Clark Law School.