In preparing a recent pitch presentation to in-house counsel for a law firm client, I kept steering the attorneys to point out what was unique about them. There was the generic fluff—great client service, accolades of all kinds, alternative fee arrangements, a wonderful team of lawyers and staff, brand name clients, blah, blah, blah—none of which really made them much different than any other solid, competent law firm. The differentiators are in the substantive work product, and often, in what you give back to the community and the profession. Not every law firm does pro bono, but they should. In the March/April 2020 issue of the ABA Law Practice Magazine, I delve into The Marketing Case for Pro Bono.
Regardless of whether pro bono is voluntary or mandatory in your state, there is a lot of upside to doing it. I was telling my old softball buddy Sam Silver, a top tier litigator at Schnader in Philadelphia, that it seemed like half the time I read a front page story about him in the newspaper that it was about a big-time, high profile matter for a client; and the other half of the time it was about a big-time, high profile pro bono client. This makes for the perfect mix of doing good for the non-paying client and doing good for the paying one. When he recently became President, Board of Directors, for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, I immediately sent a lawyer wanting to volunteer his way.
In some cases, you might get a call from a Judge asking if you might have some time to give back. You probably don’t want to say no—and it certainly does not hurt to say yes. When I attended the Professionalism Day program at the federal court in Camden, New Jersey last October, there was a program put together by the Judiciary to talk about Reentry Court, highlighting lawyers that had given of their time. Those participants included a few from the Big Law category and a sole practitioner. No firm was too small or too big to take part.
Most bar associations have a “pro bono week,” that makes it easy to do. I serve on the ABA LP Pro Bono & Public Service committee, where we put on a recent program in Portland, Oregon on “The Business Case for Pro Bono,” the very session where I jotted down that this should be my next magazine column…and her it is. Amy Edwards, a partner at Stoel Rives in Portland, highlighted lots of business development ideas that I had not really thought about.
Amy Edwards, a partner at Stoel Rives, set out the “business case for pro bono” in a presentation at the Portland meeting, highlighting just how vast the business development opportunities really are in the act of giving back. This included providing a training ground for young attorneys, partnering with in-house counsel on projects, helping unburden clogged courts, attracting and retaining talent, positive press, improving the community you live in, among the many benefits.
The bottom line is that it does impact the bottom line. Let’s just say what comes around goes around. The next time you give back for all the right reasons, remind yourself that there are many things that make it a rewarding experience. Make sure pro bono is part of your marketing plan.