In-House Pro Bono

Issue: In-House Pro Bono

Significance: All in-house lawyers, including those whose licenses come from outside the state where they work, have the sophistication, the experience, and the capacity to help the enormous number of people who need legal services but cannot afford to pay.

For years, ACC has advocated across the country to remove obstacles that make it difficult for many in-house lawyers to donate their legal expertise to people and organizations that need help.

There is no question that people need more pro bono help. According to the Legal Services Corporation, in the U.S., fewer than “one in five low-income persons get the legal assistance they need” from pro bono or legal aid lawyers. In-house legal departments are already making strong contributions toward meeting the needs of low-income individuals and communities. Hundreds of in-house legal departments have formalized efforts to provide pro bono legal services. According to Corporate Pro Bono, a global pro bono partnership of the Pro Bono Institute and ACC, many of the Fortune 500 companies and a majority of Fortune 100 companies have set up or are moving to set up formal pro bono programs. They want to do more, but state practice rules often stand in their way.

In-house lawyers can help meet this need. They are highly-qualified, ethical lawyers. That’s why their employers hire them, and why the states where they work already allow them to serve their employers.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q: Can’t in-house lawyers just take the local bar and then provide pro bono?
A: In-house lawyers shouldn’t need to take local bar exams to provide pro bono. Many states already allow lawyers with law licenses from elsewhere to serve their employers. These experienced lawyers should also be able to volunteer to help people and organizations who desperately need legal help but cannot afford to pay.

Q: What states allow in-house lawyers with law licenses from elsewhere to practice pro bono?
A: According to Corporate Pro Bono, a joint venture between ACC and the Pro Bono Institute, 47 states still place limits on the ability of in-house lawyers to provide pro bono services. See Four states — New York, Illinois, Colorado, and Virginia — give all in-house lawyers broad flexibility to volunteer for pro bono work.

Q: Shouldn’t registered in-house lawyers who want to volunteer for pro bono services work with local lawyers, or specially authorized legal aid providers?
A: No. In-house counsel are smart and sophisticated and experienced. They know when they need to reach out for help. But requiring them to double-up with local lawyers or organizations wastes precious legal resources. Doing so requires multiple lawyers to do the work that one lawyer can do by herself, and so ties up more lawyers who could otherwise help more people.