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Love me tender, and pro bono

Love me tender, and pro bono

Jaci Burns

Firms wanting to win tenders from major clients increasingly need to demonstrate their pro bono credentials, writes Jaci Burns.

In the past six months I’ve worked closely with law firm clients on tenders issued by a Top 50 listed company, the second-largest local government association in Australia, and this country’s biggest employer. Collectively, these three opportunities were worth well over $600 million in legal spend.

From a procurement standpoint, the three requests for proposal had little in common:

  • one was so poorly constructed that it comprised around 20 files, provoking over 200 questions from respondents;
  • one was so prescriptive that it specified the maximum page length of every schedule, and even dictated the font size to be used.

Two things were consistent across all three RFPs:

  1. The desire to appoint a mix of large, medium and small firms.
  2. An interest in the pro bono work respondent firms are undertaking.

In days gone by, it was sufficient to volunteer (pardon the pun) that you perform pro bono work. There was never any need to prove it.

Then, the Attorney-General raised the bar by mandating that firms be signatories to the Aspirational Target in order to be pre-qualified for the Legal Services Multi Use List (LSMUL). Overnight, firms became adept at record keeping so they could report their achievements.

I can see the day coming when:

  • Firms are penalised, or even excluded, if they are not meeting the target
  • Firms are given a time frame within which they must achieve the target.

Good corporate citizenship is no longer optional. And for law firms, pro bono work is a central pillar of any corporate responsibility program.

Whether or not you embrace your obligation to give back, public and private sector entities alike are offering law firms of every size and specialisation a clear incentive for helping to close the justice gap: their business.

10 tips for pro bono success

  1. Sign on to the Aspirational Target.
  2. Set up a non-billable matter number so your lawyers can record their time.
  3. Make someone accountable – a partner, preferably.
  4. Educate your lawyers about what constitutes pro bono work.
  5. Make sure your lawyers understand the definition of ‘disadvantaged individuals or group’ – the local footy club doesn’t fit the definition.
  6. Give your lawyers fee relief so they can perform pro bono work.
  7. Align your pro bono program with your clients’ interests, or your firm’s other community activities, such as fundraising or volunteering.
  8. Incorporate pro bono participation into your performance review program.
  9. Seek out opportunities to do both occasional pro bono projects (for example, a piece of litigation) and regular pro bono shifts (such as at a community legal clinic).
  10. Track your firm’s activities against its target in a manner that is visible to all staff.

Jaci Burns (pictured) is the managing director of Market Expertise, which provides marketing, business development and communications services to law firms.

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