Earlier this week, I participated in a panel presentation for the Legal Marketing Association. Topic - Marketing Your Law Firm's Pro Bono Program. Contrary to what might seem the natural and immediate reaction, marketing pro bono is not an oxymoron.
See, what's good for the law firm is good for the pro bono program, and vice versa. I've written before about how valuable the firm's paying clients are to our pro bono efforts - after all, we wouldn't have much of a law firm pro bono program if our law firm wasn't successful. The pro bono program also can't just be a taker within the firm. It has to be a giver too. On many different levels, it is important for the pro bono arm of the firm to show that it can make things better for everyone in the firm, even for those who maybe haven't drunk the Kool-Aid yet and aren't keen on actually doing pro bono. And management in a law firm must be convinced that pro bono has a variety of benefits, including (in addition to the obvious benefit of doing good) enhanced morale, excellent professional development and good community reputation and exposure (marketing!). These are all aspects of what my friend (and the queen of all things pro bono) Esther Lardent of the Pro Bono Institute calls "The Business Case for Pro Bono."
Think clients don't care about pro bono? Think again - many corporate legal departments have already formed formal pro bono programs, and many others are working on doing so. If you don't believe me, check out the list of companies that have signed on to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge here.
And hey, people who do good things (pro bono) really do deserve recognition. When they get the recognition they deserve, their efforts might even encourage others to do some pro bono too. So let's get past any notion that when it comes to pro bono, marketing is somehow a dirty word.
There, doesn't that feel better? Now, onto the topic at hand. How does a law firm market its pro bono program? There are many ways, and I'm probably not even aware of them all. But here are some suggestions we talked about at the presentation:
1. Media mentions of pro bono awards and achievements are the most obvious. What could be better? A newspaper, magazine, web or television story featuring pro bono work by your firm is free, and doesn't feel self-serving like an ad, or even a story about what you did for a paying client (which is also probably harder to get). Another panelist said that before the program he printed all the media mentions of himself over the past year (he's a business litigation attorney), and at least half of them were about his pro bono work. The rest were mostly about his inclusion in lists of attorneys (Super, Best, etc.), and only mentioned him among dozens of others.
2. The firm website should feature pro bono prominently, and not just on its own page. List pro bono as a practice, and link stories about pro bono to the profiles of the attorneys involved. Encourage the attorneys to include pro bono matters in their profiles.
3. Multimedia, my friends, multimedia. In addition to our website content, we have both hard copy and electronic brochures about highlights of our pro bono work (due for an update right about now). I'm currently finishing up a short pro bono video, which will go on our website, and up next is an electronic external report similar to the corporate social responsibility reports we often receive from our clients. And how about this little blog? Pretty easy to do.
4. And, nearest and dearest to my own heart - social media. Surprising, no? Okay, no. Twitter has indeed become my constant companion. But it is really very effective. Sometimes I can't even figure out why someone has followed me, and yet hundreds of people and organizations do. What's that about?
Anyway, law firm types, if you have not really thrown yourself into pumping up your pro bono program, perhaps you need to stop thinking that pro bono only takes from the firm and gives to others (for free). With some effort, your pro bono program can be one of your most attractive assets.