SPBG identifies in-housers as valuable pro bono patrons

A pro bono initiative for lawyers is targeting in-house legal teams as a new and relatively untapped market.

Earlier in the month the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG) and the European chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC Europe) hosted a networking event for employed lawyers at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in its India Office Council Chamber.

Jonathan Pearl, general counsel of Sony-Ericsson and a trustee of the SPBG, spelt out the benefits for in-house lawyers of doing pro bono work.

“The key beneficiaries of pro bono work are the individuals and charities who get the legal advice, but there are also benefits for the in-house lawyers who do pro bono work,” he said. “The more in-house legal departments who get involved in pro bono legal work, the more that outside counsel will want to contribute.”

Some 26 companies attended the evening, which was sponsored by Dechert.

SPBG acting chief executive Robert Gill calls the in-house legal community “a neglected group” within the pro bono movement.

“There’s an awful lot of big and medium-sized companies that have fairly sizeable numbers of in-house lawyers beavering away and doing pro bono work on the side, but perhaps not in as organised a way that might be more productive,” says Gill.

“What we’re trying to do is bring them more into our membership fold so we can offer them a much wider range of pro bono opportunities.” He reports that only four or five of the group’s 80 members come from business as opposed to private practice.

So what can the SPBG offer in-house lawyers?
“Not everyone’s suited to the face-to-face work or advising community groups,” Gill replies. “We can offer a wide range of opportunities through the SPBG, which lawyers can do at their desk, at the weekend or at home, and whatever best suits their personalities.”

Gill points out that many lawyers work in companies advising on corporate social responsibility projects.

“What we can do is provide their in-house legal teams with an opportunity to be part of that,” he continues. “We can help tailor what their lawyers are doing pro bono into the firm’s wider approach to corporate social responsibility. A lot of in-house lawyers are very pleased that there’s an organisation that’s given some thought to this.”