Editor: How does pro bono work by in-house counsel relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Is there a difference between the two?
Schachter: I see legal pro bono work as a part of corporate social responsibility. It’s a tool that helps advance important social change. Corporate legal departments are especially well-positioned to contribute to their companies’ CSR initiatives, providing legal counsel and services to help implement what the company is trying to achieve.
Editor: How might in-house lawyers use your latest book, Global Social Investment: A Practical Handbook for Corporate Social Responsibility Programs?
Schachter: The book can be used to launch or expand a corporate CSR program. It covers theory and practice, sets out options, identifies issues to consider and includes forms and templates. And it explains how to assess the impact of the work, both in terms of returns on investment for the company and, more importantly, in terms of metrics to evaluate impact on communities.
Editor: You’ve traveled a lot for your global pro bono work – to Nepal, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Jordan and even Yemen. Have you found good opportunities for in-house lawyers at home and abroad?
Schachter: Absolutely. Travel can afford important opportunities for on-the-ground perspectives and face-to-face communications, but it can also be time-consuming, costly and even risky. The first time I went to Yemen, I was working in-house – prompting someone to remark to me that when his employer was discussing whether or not he should be “vested,” they were discussing his pension rights, not Kevlar! In other projects, I’ve arranged for teleconferences, Skype and webinars to facilitate communications. One key consideration, I think, is whether there are project participants with in-country experience that can contribute the necessary legal and cultural perspectives.
Editor: Tell us more about your pro bono work in Yemen. What brought you there?
Schachter: I first went there while working at Time Warner to meet with Yemeni officials and others about laws relating to freedoms of press and speech. I later participated as part of a team of pro bono lawyers via the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP) and the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), consulting with a group of Yemeni Parliamentarians to draft an access to information law for Yemen.
Editor: Yemen enacted the law. Were you surprised it was passed?
Schachter: Obviously the Yemeni legislature turned their attention to other matters during the intervening “Arab Spring.” But there were reasons to be optimistic about the project. For one thing, the coalition of Yemeni Parliamentarians promoting the bill represented multiple political parties. And the Parliamentarians, IREX and the ISLP pro bono team worked very collaboratively and shared perspectives about legal, political and cultural experiences, without presuming that only one approach was appropriate. The lawyers respected that the decision rested with the Yemeni Parliament. The enactment of the law was a critical step towards meaningful access to information, but was just that, a step towards the ultimate objective of implementing and enforcing legal rights.
Editor: The book covers features of successful CSR programs. What do you see as key to corporate legal departments’ pro bono programs?
Schachter: I think that the same considerations basically apply: How does the pro bono work strategically align with the company’s overall CSR vision? How does the work satisfy critical community needs? And how does the work collaboratively engage the company’s employees and its external stakeholders?
Editor: You’ve participated in in-house counsel-law firm partnerships as both a company lawyer and as a law firm partner. What are some advantages of these partnerships?
Schachter: There are clear benefits to both types of participants in these arrangements. In-house lawyers can see the professionalism and substantive knowledge of outside counsel, which can help inform decisions about which firms to retain in commercial matters. Law firms can develop client relationships or get to know more lawyers at a company. Both sides benefit from sharing perspectives, pooling resources, and, of course, from collaborating to do good.
Editor: What are some things to watch out for?
Schachter: I think the main thing is to make sure that the needs and interests of the pro bono client are paramount. How will the arrangement advance the client’s objectives? Will more participants contribute to what’s needed or encumber it? What do the individual volunteers from the law firm and the company each bring to the matter?
Editor: How does global pro bono work serve a company, beyond, of course, the satisfaction of the employees knowing that they’re helping to do good?
Schachter: Global pro bono can have important returns for multinational companies in particular. For one thing, they’ve got a chance to engage stakeholders on the ground, to work collaboratively as they introduce themselves in a new market or continue to operate in one. They gain critical perspectives from local workers and consumers. It’s really not about “giving back to the community” it’s about investing in it.
Editor: What are the most important questions pro bono volunteers can ask when they’re exploring a potential opportunity?
Schachter: They can ask, “what is the problem, and how can we help fix it?” before the work even begins, and they also can ask, “how will we know if we’ve made a difference?” and keep asking the questions throughout the project and when it’s done.