Fred Banning: Pro bono and the rewarding opportunities it offers
In 2018, unbeknown to anyone but my wife, I applied for a non-executive role with a leading cancer charity. I was thrilled to make the shortlist.
Two weeks before the interview – in a bitter twist of fate – I was myself diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It was, I was told, incurable.
It’s a cliche, but illness makes you reflect on your life and your choices. I spent 10 very happy years at Pinsent Masons, working with an excellent team and fulfilling many of my professional ambitions as the firm transitioned from a primarily UK-focussed firm to a truly multinational player.
However, I found myself wishing I had found a way to combine a career I loved with a role that enabled me to give more back. Commuting from a nice suburb into Bothwell Street sometimes felt like living in a somewhat genteel bubble.
I wish I’d had the confidence to realise that my skills and experience could be valuable to others.
The legal profession is really good at this. There’s a recognition that pro bono work is good for your skills, your network and your soul. Many firms have targets for how many hours of pro bono their lawyers should do, and report on those hours annually. Some take pro bono contribution into account as part of decisions around promotion, not least into partnership.
However, that culture of pro bono does not permeate the sector in its entirety. There are believed to be around 30,000 business operations professionals working in the top 100 UK law firms, with experience in everything from HR to finance, marketing, IT, facilities and more. These people are highly skilled.
Yet, how many law services firms prioritise and promote pro bono work by those allied professionals in the same way as they do for their legal experts?
Often, volunteering opportunities are based around civic activity which – though entirely worthwhile – risk selling both charities and volunteers short.
Fifth Day hopes to change that. Our mission is to create a movement that makes pro bono as valued and accepted among allied business professionals within law firms as it is for lawyers. We are a non-profit organisation.
Working in partnership with Reach Volunteering, the UK’s leading skills-based volunteering charity, we connect skilled personnel in law firms with opportunities for rewarding trustee and pro bono work.
Further, we are partnering with law firms to promote and recognise the many benefits that skills-based volunteering brings.
It isn’t necessarily about asking people to do more; it’s about asking them to use what they have.
Many law firms offer their people a number of volunteering days a year, and Fifth Day aims to make it easier to use them fruitfully.
There is an impression out there that charity work is too time-consuming, however most of the opportunities I see are from organisations asking people to offer whatever time they can spare. There is huge flexibility.
I would encourage individuals to actively consider whether pro bono is for them, and visit www.Fifth-Day.org to satisfy any curiosity they have.
Further, we are asking law and professional services firms to sign-up for corporate membership of Fifth Day. There are no fees involved, instead all we’re asking of participating firms is to:
- Actively promote pro bono activities within operational teams for the purposes of developing skills, experience and contributing positively to society.
- Recognise the experience gained through skills-based volunteering in the context of recruitment, people development, promotion processes and as a tool to attract and retain the best talent.
- Introduce their own charity partners to the concept of skill-based volunteering and promote its use as a means to access a ‘bank’ of City-calibre professionals.
Already, a number of major law firms have come forward to make this pledge.
The potential benefits to third sector organisations and the people they support are self-evident.
Meanwhile, the law firms themselves will benefit from a pool of more widely-experienced, more innovative and more deeply-engaged operational talent.
Fred Banning is founder and director of Fifth Day, www.fifth-day.org