Bar News - April 4, 2008
Donating Talent is Smart Business
By: Jeannette M. Riendeau
Businesses are inundated with requests for help, but writing a check is not always the most effective way to solve problems. Donating talent and expertise can often be a powerful way to make a difference.
In the late 1970s, the NH Bar Association implemented the Pro Bono Referral Program and Wiggin & Nourie, P.A. was one of the first firms on board. Our commitment to take pro bono cases stems from a firm ethic that emphasizes equal access to justice for all.
The developer and coordinator for our internal pro bono program is our current president, L. Jonathan Ross, who has worked diligently to provide legal services for the underprivileged and advocated at the local and national levels for adequate funding for The Legal Services Corporation and other legal aid programs.
While pro bono work is often associated with law firms, any business can establish a pro bono program or policy as a way to donate its services. To build an effective pro bono program, a company should identify whom it wants to help, gain buy-in from the staff, and develop a pro bono plan that outlines how the program will be run and how participants will be recognized.
The leadership of a company should speak with employees before developing a pro bono program and identify:
· What causes do employees believe in and support?
· To what nonprofit or charitable organizations do employees belong?
· What specific skills do employees have that can be used in the pro bono program?
· What do employees expect to get out of the program?
Using these points as benchmarks, the company will be able to identify the target audience for it’s pro bono program and use the employees’ feedback to help with staff commitment to pro bono endeavors. In addition to identifying whom the pro bono recipients will be, a company should outline how much time and money will be allocated for pro bono projects and how employees will be recognized for their participation in the company-sponsored program. Different people are motivated by different things, so identifying what will keep employees dedicated to the company’s pro bono program (a sense of goodwill, recognition or increased loyalty to the company) is essential.
Our firm’s commitment is to provide pro bono service for civil legal matters. Our firm takes two new cases each month, referred by the NH Bar’s Pro Bono Referral Program, regardless of the number of open pro bono cases in the office. Some of our lawyers also accept cases from the DOVE Project, a NH Bar Association Domestic Violence Emergency Project, which provides free legal representation at final hearings for a Domestic Violence Protective Order. Our business attorneys have assisted with some tax issues for persons of limited means and other similar matters. The majority of the pro bono cases we take are civil cases, but some of our attorneys have also taken criminal cases for indigent defendants both at the trial level and before the NH Supreme Court.
The NHBA Pro Bono Program has limited resources so our firm does not ask for reimbursement for expenses, even though it is available from the bar programs. To recognize lawyers who do this work, the firm credits our attorneys with billable hours against their annual budgets. There is no limit to the number of billable hour credits an attorney can receive for pro bono cases.
In addition to creating a culture of giving back to the community, there are other benefits we have experienced as a result of having a pro bono program. New lawyers are able to work on pro bono cases and they gain experience and training opportunities from a variety of different cases. The firm also provides them with mentors for their work on pro bono matters. Often, younger attorneys who have an affinity for corporate and social responsibility are attracted to firms with pro bono programs. Our program has proven to be a valuable recruiting tool to help attract quality new lawyers.
Many of our attorneys have been recognized for their goodwill efforts ands the firm benefits from this recognition and increased visibility in NH. We find that our clients are proud of our efforts in providing pro bono services.
Jeannette M. Riendeau is director of marketing and client relations at Wiggin & Nourie, P.A., and a member of the marketing and public relations committee for NH Businesses for Social Responsibility. This article was originally published in NH Business Magazine and is reprinted with permission.