Law Firms

Corporate Clients Eager to do Pro Bono with Outside Counsel

Corporate law departments’ interest in pro bono has surged as they grow eager to establish their own legal volunteer legacies, and they’re looking to their outside counsel to become active partners in the effort.

“It’s definitely a national trend,” Ellyn Haikin Josef, a staff attorney who coordinates Vinson & Elkins’ pro bono efforts, told the ABA Journal. “In-house lawyers are catching up in the world of pro bono and looking to law firms as the experts.”

And it’s not surprising that partners and associates—eager to boost client relations as competition among law firms intensifies—are more than happy to help. In fact, Josef said, the firm’s pro bono client-firm partnership opportunities have increased as work picks up.

“Lawyers want to show clients their strengths and how they operate,” Josef said. “It’s a great way to get the firm’s name out there.”

However, with so much riding on the relationships, O’Melveny & Myers counsel David Lash suggests collaborations such as a volunteer day at a legal aid clinic where outside counsel and corporate law departments work side by side to achieve common goals but don’t necessarily co-counsel on a single client.

“You have to carefully assess the relationship between the firm and the client and craft something that fits in that relationship,” said Lash, managing counsel for pro bono and public services at the firm.

For example, if an in-house lawyer drops the ball, or a legal department becomes too busy to complete a project, a law firm may find itself in the awkward position of picking up the slack or even criticizing its own client.

“You don’t want to have to call your client and ask, “Where are those interrogatories?” Lash said.

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