The Requirement to Care – Leading the Way for Pro Bono Commitment

May 24, 2012

Today’s post is written by Points of Light Board Member Jeff Haidet, chairman of international law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, where he is also a partner. In addition to Jeff’s role as chairman, he maintains an active corporate practice and is involved in pro bono legal service and other community service work on behalf of the firm.

Earlier this month, the state of New York announced a new requirement for all lawyers applying to the New York State Bar.  Starting in 2013, aspiring attorneys will need to demonstrate that they have performed 50 hours of pro bono legal work in order to be eligible for admission.

The legal profession has long held the professional standard that the pursuit of justice and the practice of law must include providing legal services to those who can not afford to pay. Law firms manage pro bono practices to varying levels of success.  But all lawyers understand this underlying ethic to their profession.

And while you can debate the rationale and benefit behind any mandatory requirement for volunteer service, New York’s bold act invites an important conversation for the larger business community around setting standards that place value on pro bono contributions.  If companies within every industry adopted an ethic of service that encouraged and incented skills-based, pro bono contributions from employees, imagine what could be accomplished.

First, there is the value of pro bono volunteer service to the individual and the practical skills acquisition for employees.  For the legal industry, the unprecedented move by New York highlights the question about the readiness of emerging law students.  Prior to practicing law, law students have varying levels of experience actually applying classroom skills to real-life situations.  A requirement or ethic of pro bono service incents law students to gain tangible skills prior to practicing and encourages law firms to focus summer training programs on engaging students in pro bono matters applying legal skill to tangible urgent needs.

As a bonus, emerging research from firms such as Deloitte tell us that millennials, today’s law school graduates,  place a higher value on corporate cultures that have a social responsibility platform and offer opportunities for young professionals to hone their skills while giving back.  The New York requirement simply gives law firms in New York increased incentive to actively engage their summer associates and young lawyers in their pro bono programs whereby they will meet the legal services needs, provide fledgling lawyers practical experience, and potentially garner the interest of top candidates who find community involvement a critical element to their employment decisions.

The move in New York also invites discussion around the tangible value of pro bono or skills-based volunteer service to the larger community.  In the legal profession, providing legal services to people struggling with criminal legal issues as well as foreclosures, evictions, domestic violence or a variety of civil legal matters, hones the skills of any attorney and provides invaluable service to people in crisis.  Expanding on this traditional legal services paradigm, providing legal services to meet the organizational needs of a non-profit has a ripple effect.  Again the attorney gains valuable skills.  But in addition, the non-profit receives direct operational expense off-setting services that strengthen the organization and enable that non-profit to then serve a greater number of clients in need. Another mutual win for all involved.

The decision in New York resonates with me as the head of a law firm with a New York office.  As chairman of McKenna Long & Aldridge, I understand that part of my role in leading this law firm includes championing the importance of pro bono involvement, recognizing the value internally and finding ways for our people to use their skills to meet legal needs in the community.   Yet, providing professional skills to meet critical community needs is a win for any industry, not just the legal profession.  Individuals builds vital professional and leadership skills, learn deeply about community issues and vital needs are met.

This is why McKenna Long & Aldridge is a founding partner for a pro bono service campaign called the Billion + Change which was created for the very reasons illustrated by the move in New York: to encourage an ethic of giving back in every industry in the country.  A Billion + Change is a national campaign championed by more than 100 companies to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from corporate America by 2013.

As a Founding supporter of Billion + Change, McKenna Long & Aldridge joined the effort to try to bring the lessons learned from the legal community to help envision how every industry can adopt of standard of giving a portion of their professional skills and services to address critical issues.  We hope to  help tell the story and further the message that there is work to be done and every industry has the human capital and professional skill to meet the needs.

If this notion of giving your professional skills to meet critical needs resonates, learn how your company can create value and make a lasting impact on society visit