Editor’s Note: The author of this post works in-house for Microsoft and is based in Chicago.
By Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation
Over 100 million. That is the absolutely staggering number of Americans “living with civil justice problems” involving “basic human needs” according to a 2016 South Carolina Law Review article by Professor Rebecca L. Sandefur, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that was cited in the recent American Bar Association (ABA) “Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States.”
The ABA defines cases involving “basic human needs” to include matters pertaining to shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody.
While there’s certainly no one solution to address this crisis in our society, pro bono work performed by lawyers has a positive impact in bridging the gap for those who cannot afford legal assistance. Many lawyers glowingly talk about the personal satisfaction they receive when they do pro bono work and make a significant difference in the lives of others.
Lawyers will also often feel a sense of moral, civic and ethical responsibility in serving others.
Yet we still need many more lawyers to devote the time and effort to perform pro bono legal services. Please be mindful of these potential compelling business benefits for lawyers – whether you work in-house, for a law firm or in the public interest – to perform pro bono legal work:
Underscores Commitment to Citizenship
Performing pro bono is an excellent opportunity to complement and diversify your organization’s existing citizenship/business social responsibility activities. Potential customers, partners and vendors are more prone to align and be associated with those organizations who serve others in the communities where they live and work – especially since having competent legal services is so personal to all of us. As a result, your organization’s pro bono legal work will serve to differentiate it from others.
Builds New Legal “Muscle”
Performing pro bono legal work is a fantastic opportunity for all lawyers – regardless of experience level – to stretch and learn new legal skills that will make you a better lawyer, more marketable and enable you to provide greater value to your organization and clients. Pro bono work is an excellent example of how lawyers can learn by doing and embrace the “growth mindset”. In addition, encouraging lawyers to perform pro bono is a terrific addition to your organization’s own learning, development and training programs for lawyers.
Help Your Customers & Potential Customers
Doing pro bono work may serve to assist your organization’s existing and future customers. For example, when the legal departments of organizations representing industries like the public sector, manufacturing, information technology, utilities and retail perform pro bono work they may also be coming to the aid of existing or potential customers.
Builds & Deepens Legal Community Relationships
Performing pro bono legal work provides extensive opportunities to meet, partner and network with a range of lawyers.
In my own experience in providing pro bono assistance I have had the privilege to work with and learn from excellent lawyers who work at law firms, big companies, small organizations, non-profits and the public sector. As a pro bono lawyer not only will you build trusted legal advisor relationships with the clients who need you most – but you also have opportunities to build, develop and sustain relationships with other pro bono lawyers in the legal industry.
Helps Attract & Retain Talent
Acquiring and retaining great talent is imperative for any high-performing legal organization. Lawyers who are Millennials seem to embrace a spirit of volunteerism and may gravitate to working for those organizations that have developed impactful pro bono programs. Offering meaningful opportunities for lawyers to perform pro bono work may help differentiate your in-house legal team or law firm in attracting and retaining leading lawyers.
Increases Team Morale
Your legal organization can experience greater camaraderie and cohesion when lawyers perform pro bono work. Many of my colleagues in Microsoft’s Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs team perform a wide array of pro bono work. When my colleagues and I learn of the positive impact that our fellow lawyers have in representing children in an immigration matter or helping a disabled veteran navigate a bureaucracy to obtain necessary medical benefits we all become more energized and excited as a oneMicrosoft team.
While these are some business considerations in providing pro bono legal assistance, most importantly please don’t forget there are already over 100 million reasons to do so.