A new initiative has been launched to promote pro bono opportunities for business operations professionals in the legal sector, to encourage them to give of their skills for good causes in the same way that lawyers typically do.

Fifth Day has been launched by Pinsent Masons’ former head of communications, Fred Banning. A non-profit organisation, it aims to encourage skilled non-legal professionals to consider undertaking pro bono assignments from third sector organisations.  

There are currently believed to be some 30,000 professionals in the top 100 UK law firms alone, working in areas such as IT, business development and marketing, finance, HR, facilities and secretarial services.

Fifth Day will also help to connect talent with projects and trustee roles through its website, developed in partnership with skills-based volunteering organisation Reach Volunteering
Additionally, Fifth Day is establishing a voluntary corporate membership programme (there is no fee involved) under which law firms can commit to promoting pro bono opportunities among their business operations teams. 
Mr Banning is being assisted by an advisory board comprising Jeremy Ford (senior BD and marketing leader, Skadden), David Halliwell (partner, Pinsent Masons), Nicola Sawford (portfolio non-executive director and former chief executive of Serle Court chambers), and Moira Slape (chief people officer, Travers Smith). 

He explained: “I was effectively forced by circumstances to finish work in 2020 after a terminal cancer diagnosis. One of my great regrets was that, while I derived a huge amount of satisfaction from my career, I wished I had done more to use my skills and experience to benefit others.

“In speaking to friends and colleagues from several professional services firms, it seems clear to me that I’m not alone in this. The experience of the pandemic has given people a chance to step back and re-evaluate what they want from their lives and careers. It’s no secret that, even before the pandemic, firms were responding to desire for greater purpose among their employees. That has only been accelerated by COVID. Skills-based volunteering is one way to achieve that.”

He added: “People in areas such as IT, finance, HR, BD & marketing and facilities sometimes don’t appreciate that their skills are as valued as legal services by third sector organisations. However, from conversations with Reach Volunteering, it’s clear that the demand for support is there. We are City-calibre professionals, generally working in high-performing cultures, and shouldn’t doubt the positive contribution we can make to organisations of all shapes and sizes. 

“It isn’t necessarily about asking people to do more; it’s about asking them to use what they have. Most law firms offer their people a number of volunteering days a year, and Fifth Day aims to make it easier to use them. I think 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.”

Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering, commented: “There is an immense, untapped pool of talent within law firms in specialisms including digital, finance and HR. These highly skilled professionals could be a huge benefit to charities who are often underresourced in these areas and need support for short term projects or long term roles such as trustees. We are proud to be working in partnership with Fifth Day to enable these skilled individuals to volunteer their much-needed expertise, by encouraging wider pro bono programmes in law firms.”