In 2015 GC100 (the association of general counsel and company secretaries working in FTSE 100 companies) published a short guide, Overcoming the barriers to in-house lawyers doing pro bono work. The GC100 Executive Committee is keen to build on some of the lessons learned since the guide was published and, where appropriate, continue to support pro bono efforts by the in-house community.
To help gather the insights needed, the Committee issued a short survey to build an understanding of the current landscape for pro bono work among the in-house community. The summary of responses to this poll will inform GC100’s ongoing work and potential actions to support this important aspect of the legal and governance professions. This post highlights some of the key themes from the survey, which closed on 15 October 2021.
There are four main settings where pro bono work is done
44% of respondents undertake pro bono work. There are four main areas of activity:
- Working in legal centres or pro bono clinics (55%).
- Advising small businesses or social enterprises (40%).
- Advising charities (40%).
- Advising overseas charities or not-for-profit organisations (NGOs) (30%).
Pro bono opportunities are sourced from several organisations
Pro bono opportunities are sourced via several avenues, including:
- Private law firms (53%).
- TrustLaw (32%).
- LawWorks (the solicitors Pro Bono Group) (26%).
- The In-house Pro Bono Group (10%).
Personal contacts with lawyers were also mentioned by a number of respondents.
Most in-house legal professionals work alongside lawyers from private practice law firms on pro bono activities
68% of respondents said that their organisation’s legal professionals work on pro bono activities alongside private practice law firms. Only 10% said that they worked alongside other in-house (non-law firm) legal teams or professionals.
The different types of pro bono work undertaken by respondents
The following quotes are verbatim responses to the survey:
“Mentoring of trainee lawyers with a law firm and Aspiring Solicitors. Skills based volunteering – helping charities and community organisations with any legal queries they have and help preparing pitches for funding, business plans, etc.”
“Currently collaborating with the World Bank to review legislation in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom for the Women, Business and the Law Report 2022. The project involves completing questionnaires on three areas of law (family law, employment/labour law and violence against women legislation) and focuses on identifying legal barriers to women’s economic participation in over 190 jurisdictions around the world.”
“A member of our in-house team has been working with one of our panel law firms on a pro bono initiative called Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a charity that provides legal representation in the United Kingdom for migrant children with no legal aid representation available.”
“Volunteers have participated in Hogan Lovells’ BaSE Catalyst programme, an initiative which provides pro bono support for social enterprises led by Hogan Lovells lawyers and in-house counsel. A member of our in-house team has now taken part in a training programme, which will form the basis for providing ongoing support for the firm’s social enterprise clients.”
“In 1996, the Body & Soul charity was established to address the gap in HIV services that provided targeted support for children, young people and families. Body & Soul Legal Clinic is currently held each month. A lawyer from [our company] and a lawyer from Hogan Lovells are required to advise at each session. The types of cases coming through the clinic fall under the following areas of the law: commercial/contract; disclosure of HIV status; employment and discrimination; and welfare benefits.”
“Our programme was originally established in 2005 by a small group of lawyers. In 2015, we began to record and report metrics for the US programme. By 2017, through the leadership of our General Counsel, Legal expanded the program globally and funded the purchase of global malpractice insurance. The key to global reach was the formation of our Global Pro Bono Committee, which meets quarterly with members from around the world. Colleagues in London and Singapore took the lead in initiating our first non-US projects.”
Key barriers to undertaking pro bono work
The main reasons for not undertaking pro bono work were:
- Limited or insufficient capacity (42%).
- Concerns about regulatory issues and professional standards (33%).
- Concerns about insurance (25%).
For those organisations that are not currently undertaking pro bono work but are interested in doing so, several initiatives might help, including access to:
- Pro bono opportunities (38%).
- Professional indemnity insurance (25%).
- External supervision by a law firm or a pro bono organisation (25%).
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity
70% of respondents undertake non-pro bono work or volunteering for the benefit of society (44% of respondents undertake pro bono work). Companies are undertaking other charitable work, that may have a legal emphasis or connection to legal skill under the banner of CSR. Three categories of activity were mentioned multiple times:
- Acting as a charity trustee.
- Acting as a school governor.
- Working on environmental clean-up projects.
Respondents gave the following examples of their CSR work:
“Employees are encouraged to take part in Ambassadors for Good, an employee volunteering programme which gives employees the chance to take part in community-centred social projects. Previous projects include supporting the International Law Book Facility, an organisation that provides law books in support of legal education to those who need them but cannot afford them, and Any Girl, an initiative aimed at combatting period poverty affecting South African students.”
“GameChangers is a global leadership development initiative focused on supporting individuals to drive ambitious change in response to social, environmental and economic challenges in a way that aligns with our company’s strategic focus and purpose. The aim of this programme is to cultivate leaders with the necessary knowledge and capabilities to appreciate the complexities of their business environment to make well-informed decisions.”
“Our company is a member of the volunteer-led charity SMBP. SMBP is a collaboration of 150+ commercial organisations, professional services firms and professional sports teams working across 18 towns and cities. All are committed to supporting Year 12 students from low-income backgrounds in their pursuit of a career in business. Since 2014, SMBP has grown from offering opportunities to 20 students in London, to over 500 student places across the UK in 2020.”
“Company Legal staff participate in board service for non-profits and charity organisations, mentoring programmes for students with disabilities, refugee aid, and disaster relief. In addition, there are company-sponsored programmes that many Legal staff participate in, such as Orange Day (an initiative that allows all permanent employees to take one paid day off each year to volunteer with a charity or NGO, either individually or with their team) and PULSE (a programme for employees to volunteer with a non-profit or NGO for three to six months, full-time).”
GC100 would like to thank all the companies that participated in the survey. It has provided an insightful health check and inspired GC100 to update its guidance on pro bono, which will be published during pro bono week.
GC100 appreciates and supports the significant contribution that pro bono legal services make to the furtherance of a just and equitable society in the UK and around the world. It also acknowledges the time and commitment that in-house teams, law firms and other collaborators give to supporting the objectives of pro bono.