Pro Bono and Corporate Social Responsibility
Law firms are increasingly embracing the concept of corporate social responsibility and many have developed community assistance programs to “give back” and engage with the broader community. This note provides guidance to firms to help them place their pro bono legal work in context when developing such programs.
In a community assistance program, pro bono legal services may sit alongside community partnerships, charitable donations, volunteering, workplace giving programs and community service work. Even foundations have been developed within some law firms to better manage the process of making charitable donations.
These elements should work together in a complementary way. The support to a particular community group can be enhanced, for example, by combining pro bono legal assistance with charitable donations and volunteer community service work. The various ways that a firm can assist a particular organisation can help to strengthen the relationship between them. Through workplace giving and community service work, all of the staff of a firm can participate in the relationship with the organisation, not just the legal staff. And community service work may provide lawyers with the attractive opportunity to do something outside their usual area of practice.
An issue arises however, when firms and/or legal staff opt to spend their limited time doing community service work rather than providing pro bono legal assistance. The issue is that there is enormous unmet need for pro bono legal assistance from disadvantaged and marginalised people. And only lawyers can meet it.
With this in mind, firms are urged to maintain their commitment to providing pro bono legal services when formulating, developing and implementing community assistance programs, and to maintain the primacy of their pro bono legal work within the program. Lawyers enjoy one of the greatest legislative monopolies in Australia. They are the only people who can provide legal services – and have a professional responsibility to do so to those in need.
So when a firm develops a corporate social responsibility or community assistance program, it is vital that pro bono legal services be at the heart of the program.
top of page >