What is pro bono work really about? Does it make a difference or is it all about whitewashing?
D&I was just ranked as the favourite law firm as employer among third- to fifth-year law students in Finland (Prospera Kantar SIFO Employer Branding Survey 2018). In the autumn 2017, we were ranked first among all employers of law students (Biannual award of The Association of Finnish Lawyers: The Best Student Employer 2017). Winning always makes us proud. After all, if you want to be the best law firm, you definitely need the best lawyers.
Back when I graduated from law school, hardly any information was available on law firms. If you were interested in working at a law firm, you were just happy if you got hired by one. And once you got in, you could find that the firm was a perfect fit for you, or that the values of the firm were in deep contrast to your own. Today it’s different. As a newly graduated lawyer you can actually make an informed choice as to where you may wish to practice law. There are a number of surveys ranking law firms as employers and the Helsinki law firms are intensely scrutinised on social media.
So what makes a law firm a good workplace? I believe that the new generation of lawyers evaluates workplaces with much more sophistication than my generation ever did. To simplify, we just wanted a good job to be able to pay the bills. The current generation looks for a deeper meaning. Meaningfulness, sustainability, inclusion and responsibility are important criteria today. It may not be possible to identify all the criteria that define a good and inspiring workplace. But does pro bono work increase the meaningfulness and thereby contribute to a good workplace?
We focus our pro bono work on supporting some of the causes that we feel strongly about; the environment (WWF Finland), world peace (CMI) and children in need (Ronald McDonald childrens’ homes and Hospital Clowns). Our pro bono work represents close to 2 percent of our work. That means that on average each of our lawyers spends roughly a week per year on supporting the causes we’ve chosen.
Our pro bono work is done in the same way as any client work. The ambition level is high and we want to create real added value to our pro bono partners. At the same time our pro bono partners are highly sophisticated organisations working with high ambitions, constantly seeking the most efficient way to further their cause. As with our clients, we want to be close to our pro bono partners. We want to thoroughly understand their business in order to be able to support them in an efficient and comprehensive way.
We also learn a lot from our pro bono partners. Just recently, we worked on a matter which happened to have a connection to a geographical region where one of our pro bono partners were active. We received some valuable insight into the cultural particularities of the region.
So is our pro bono work just about whitewashing?
I believe that it is easy to sense if an organisation does pro bono work just for the purpose of whitewashing an otherwise non-sustainable business. In the last edition of our D&I Quarterly, I wrote about our efforts to provide sustainable legal advice – it is at the core of what we do. To us our pro bono –engagement is a symbol – a mark representing our commitment to doing good in our society, a way for us to give back. It is also an example of the positive impact we wish to bring to all our clients.
It feels good to know that the person in the next room works to support efforts to stabilise a violent region and it is satisfying when you can do a small thing to help protect our environment. It’s good to know that we as a workplace can contribute to some of the causes that we together feel are important.
After all – doing good can’t be bad.