The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
April 16, 2014

Making a Case for Pro Bono

For over a decade, PBI has promoted the “business case” for pro bono. Indeed, PBI’s research suggests that the benefits of pro bono outweigh the costs of starting and maintaining a pro bono program. In particular, pro bono engagement can help a law firm or legal department recruit and retain talent, develop the professional skills of its attorneys, and increase employee engagement.  This is a case PBI reiterated for law firms in a 2010 law review article and for in-house departments in a 2013 paper. So The PBEye was heartened to see the business case argument compellingly made this month in a piece by Jim Middlemiss in the Canadian Lawyer. As Paul Belanger, co-chair of the Financial Services Regulatory group and co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee at Blake Cassels & Graydon  bluntly notes, “We’re in a war for talent. Young people want to be able to do something that is meaningful to them. You need to offer a robust pro bono program.”

Photo: Sara Tyson

Photo: Sara Tyson

The article cites four interest-based reasons for how law firms and legal departments can improve their performance while also doing good for society via pro bono:

  1. Better recruitment: Currently, most high school students are required to volunteer to secure their diploma. Attracting talent requires responding to this volunteering seed planted during their school days.
  2. Improved retention and training: Pro bono can provide opportunities for skills development and an opportunity for rewarding work — benefits which may reduce associate attrition and its significant economic costs.
  3. Corporate social responsibility: Canadian companies are increasingly involved in community initiatives, and their general counsels are examining metrics such as diversity and gender when choosing to hire law firms. Such metrics may increasingly include pro bono service. Firms that fail to engage in pro bono risk losing out on such selective clients.
  4. Increased profile and profitability: Middlemiss, citing PBI’s original 2000 paper, “Making the Business Case for Pro Bono,” notes that a major law firm’s managing partner quoted in that paper highlighted that every dollar spent on pro bono generated 10 times that value in good publicity and heightened visibility for the law firm.

Middlemiss closes with an urgent conclusion — there’s a survival case to be made for pro bono, so do it if you want your firm to stay in business.  A strong sentiment, but one with which The PBEye can agree!

April 10, 2014

Five Ways to Feel Better About Tax Day

tax-dayApril 15 is just around the corner and this time of year can be stressful, especially for low-income Americans. They may fall victim to exploitation by commercial tax preparers charging unduly high fees for their services. Many also face obstacles when claiming their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides them and their families a refundable tax credit based on earnings and number of children.  There are numerous ways that pro bono lawyers can get involved during tax season and all year long to help low-income taxpayers.

1. Participate in a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program or a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and help low-income workers take advantage of tax credits designed precisely for them.

2. Sponsor a year-round tax clinic for low-income business owners or for particularly vulnerable populations who may be eligible for pro bono assistance, such as the elderly, the chronically ill, veterans, or the homeless.

3. Research federal and state tax rules that seem to disproportionately burden vulnerable populations.  For example, Appleseed worked with White and Case*† to prepare All Work and No Pay, a report that examines the income-documentation requirements that frequently prevent low-income, self-employed workers and cash earners from claiming their EITC.

4. Advocate for changes in tax regulations.  Hunton and Williams*† litigated a pro bono tax case that resulted in a policy change that gives thousands of taxpayers a chance to avoid the tax burdens incurred by a former spouse, an important development for low-income tax payers, especially victims of domestic violence.

5. Represent low-income individuals in tax court. Your efforts can help them achieve more favorable settlements, or even avoid undue liability entirely.

What pro bono projects are you working on to help low-income taxpayers? Tell us about it in the comments below.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

April 8, 2014

Reminder: CPBO Partner Award Nominations

ClockThe PBEye reminds you that time is running out to submit your nomination for the 2014 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award. To nominate a partnership, please complete a nomination form and submit a letter of nomination no later than May 9, 2014.

The award, which will be presented at the 2014 PBI Annual Dinner, recognizes innovative team approaches to pro bono work involving in-house legal departments, law firms, and public interest groups. Recipients of the award must include at least one legal department and one or more law firms and/or public interest group partners.

Last year’s award was presented to the Hewlett-Packard Company**, in partnership with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius*†, and National Veterans Legal Services Program. Their innovative partnership served the legal needs of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. A full list of previous awardees can be found here.

For more information about the award, please contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon at (202) 729-6699.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge®

April 4, 2014

Pro Bono a Key Factor in General Counsel Evaluation

Untitled-1The PBEye was excited to read that pro bono was one of the six criteria The National Law Journal (NLJ) used in compiling its recently published “America’s 50 Outstanding General Counsel”! Its inclusion is fantastic; especially considering 10 years ago in-house pro bono was still seen as novel and unusual by many. Not anymore. In fact, while 13 of the 50 outstanding general counsel were highlighted by NLJ for their excellent commitment to the underrepresented and the community, The PBEye knows from its colleagues at CPBO that there are many more on the list whose commitment to pro bono is noteworthy and even more general counsel not listed who are pro bono stars.

CPBO has had the pleasure of working with hundreds of legal departments, including many of those led by general counsel on the list. Of the 50 general counsel selected by NLJ, 18 of them are CPBO Challenge® signatories, six serve on the CPBO Advisory Board (including co-chairs Brad Smith of Microsoft Corporation and Laura Stein of The Clorox Company), and more than half oversee legal departments with formal pro bono programs.

Cheers to NLJ for recognizing the importance of pro bono in legal departments and the community, and for recognizing what makes an outstanding general counsel.

Congratulations to all those who were honored!

April 3, 2014

2007-2012 CPBO Challenge® Report

Corporate Pro Bono just released the 2007-2012 CPBO Challenge® Report, which examines the pro bono activities of legal departments that are signatories to the CPBO Challenge® initiative. The publication summarizes data reported by CPBO Challenge® signatories from 2007-2012, and looks at the culture and performance of pro bono among a broad sample of legal departments. The video below captures highlights from the Report.

Highlights from the Report:

  • Meeting the Challenge Goal The CPBO Challenge® statement sets an aspirational goal of 50 percent participation by legal department staff. Since the inception of the CPBO Challenge® initiative, signatories have reported an average participation rate of lawyers between 42 and 50 percent. In 2012, 54 percent of signatories met or exceeded the CPBO Challenge® goal of 50 percent participation with regard to their lawyers.
  • Partnerships with Outside Law Firms Partnering with law firms is a common practice among CPBO Challenge® signatories; each year between 2007 and 2012, more than 50 percent of responding departments indicated that they partner on pro bono with at least one law firm. Responding legal departments also indicated that they considered law firm pro bono performance when evaluating outside counsel. In 2012, 52 percent answered that they considered law firm pro bono performance.
  • Global Pro Bono In 2012, CPBO Challenge® signatories reported providing pro bono legal services in more than 40 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, England, France, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and South Africa.
  • Informal Pro Bono Programs In-house pro bono is not limited solely to departments that have adopted formal pro bono programs with processes and systems to manage the departments’ pro bono engagement. The average lawyer participation rate for respondents without a formal pro bono program was 66 percent in 2012.

Since its inception, there has been a steady increase in the number of CPBO Challenge® signatories and in-house pro bono participation. For companies that have not yet joined, we encourage you to enroll and advance pro bono at your legal department. There is no downside as we do not publish disaggregated statistics, nor do we in any way identify individual departments as having met or not met the goal. Rather, we work closely with signatories to provide individual consultative services and support to help them improve their pro bono performance.

If you have questions about the Report or your legal department would like to join the CPBO Challenge® initiative, contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.

April 2, 2014

The Power of Pro Bono Featured on “48 Hours”

48 Hours Logo“Last Chance,” the most recent episode of the CBS true-crime investigative program “48 Hours,” tells the compelling story of Damon Thibodeaux.  Thibodeaux was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of his “step-cousin” in 1996, and spent 15 years on death row in Louisiana.  The PBEye previously reported on his exoneration, which was made possible through the heroic pro bono legal assistance of attorneys and staff at Fredrikson & Byron*† in collaboration with the Innocence Project and the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana.

Among those interviewed and seen on the program are our friends, attorney Steve Kaplan and Pro Bono and Community Service Manager Pam Wandzel, who led the team of Fredrikson & Byron attorneys and staff on a 12-year quest for Thibodeaux’s freedom.

Thibodeaux’s story underscores the need for pro bono assistance at all stages of our criminal justice system.  In particular, pro bono work for death row inmates has the power to save lives and can prove rewarding for the attorneys who choose to take on such difficult and demanding cases.  Click here to watch “Last Chance” or read a transcript of the program.  It’s an incredible story that you don’t want to miss.  We know that you’ll be as inspired as we are.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®

† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

April 1, 2014

PBI Goes Hollywood!

PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent alongside Emma Watson and Helen Mirren.

PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent alongside Emma Watson and Helen Mirren.

It’s official!  We’ve scooped Deadline Hollywood and the Hollywood Reporter.  Access to Justice Pictures announced today that it has commissioned a feature-length film about the Pro Bono Institute.  The movie, currently in pre-production and yet to be named, will document the history of PBI and its mission to increase access to legal services.

Lauren Fairbanks, who is known for her work on emotional films that tackle public interest issues, is slated to be the director.  Production is expected to begin this year, with an anticipated release date of Summer 2015.  The role of PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent has yet to be cast, but it’s been reported that Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, and Emma Watson are in consideration to play Lardent at various stages in her career.  As an exclusive benefit to Member Law Firms, we have negotiated special walk-on roles and other cameo appearances.

PBI staff is thrilled to see their story hit the big screen.  According to Lardent, “This will be a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness about pro bono, the access to justice crisis, and the work that we do here at PBI.”  We will be collaborating closely with the production studio to make sure that PBI, Signatories to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® and Corporate Pro Bono Challenge®, and Law Firm Pro Bono Project Members are accurately portrayed.

We will keep you posted as more details, including dates and locations of advanced screenings, are finalized!

P.S. Happy April Fools’ Day!

March 28, 2014

Guest Blog: Pro Bono Legal Advice Opens the Tap to Provide Clean Water

Yasmin Batliwala  Chief Executive, A4ID

Yasmin Batliwala
Chief Executive, A4ID

March 22 marked the commemoration of World Water Day, an opportunity to focus public attention on critical issues relating to water. A key issue concerns the fact that 768 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water. Millions of people around the world are forced to choose between having to travel great distances to collect clean water or to drink water which is contaminated. Neither option is ideal. Children (and girls in particular) are often withdrawn from school to collect water for their families. And the consequences of drinking dirty water, as we already know, can lead to outbreaks of deadly waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Another critical issue is the provision of sanitation facilities such as a hygienic toilet and water for hand washing. It is hard to imagine life without a toilet in this day and age, but for 2.5 billion people this is their reality. In the absence of adequate latrines, not only are diseases spread but people’s dignity is compromised. Additionally, rapid urban growth in developing countries is bringing new challenges as water pipes and sewage systems become overburdened.

Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are essential in order for people to lead healthy and dignified lives. To this end, the UN has formally recognised that affordable, accessible, and safe water is a basic human right. Moreover, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are aimed at galvanizing the international community to halve the number of people living in poverty, also recognize the importance of the right of access to clean, safe drinking water.

Our own work at A4ID focuses on the achievement of the MDGs and we source pro bono legal advice for development organizations working towards meeting at least one of the eight MDGs. For instance we have secured pro bono legal advice for our development partners such as WaterAid and Oxfam who are working on large-scale water projects. Furthermore, A4ID has worked specifically with U.S. law firms to provide pro bono legal advice to organizations such as The BARKA Foundation, which works in Burkina Faso. The Foundation has drilled wells, built toilets and conducted a hygiene promotion campaign. This is important work, as Burkina Faso is one of the most water-stressed nations on our planet, with high rates of waterborne diseases.

The BARKA Foundation has now received assistance from U.S. based law firms. By providing pro bono legal advice, these law firms enabled the Foundation to establish a partnership with a Ghanaian water filter factory. The BARKA Foundation also received pro bono legal advice from U.S. law firm Dechert*. The advice concerned an investment opportunity which posed risks, that the BARKA Foundation would have been unable to access on their own.

A well in Lampiadi, Burkina Faso, being drilled days before its scheduled official opening to the public on World Water Day. Photo: The BARKA Foundation

A well in Lampiadi, Burkina Faso, being drilled days before its scheduled official opening to the public on World Water Day. Photo: The BARKA Foundation

Mobilising the law and lawyers to help fight poverty is A4ID’s mission. Consider becoming involved and helping in this way.

Yasmin Batliwala
Chief Executive, A4ID
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®


March 27, 2014

A Dangerous Precedent for Pro Bono

DOJEarlier this month, while we were celebrating pro bono at the 2014 PBI Annual Conference, the U.S. Senate rejected President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.  All Republicans and seven Democrats voted against the nomination ostensibly because, while working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Adegbile contributed to a series of briefs on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a death-row inmate convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer.  Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was ultimately overturned on the grounds of unconstitutional jury-sentencing instructions.

Adegbile’s defeat on these grounds sends a troubling message, suggesting that lawyers can be faulted (or even punished) for representing unpopular or marginalized clients or causes.  The practice of judging lawyers based on the views of their clients jeopardizes fundamental, nonpartisan underpinnings of our justice system – the constitutional right to a fair trial and legal representation – and could negatively impact the provision of pro bono legal services.  Indeed, as summarized by Rule 1.2(b) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, it is a basic tenet of the legal profession that a “lawyer’s representation of a client . . . does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., an ardent champion of pro bono, said in his statement on the Senate vote, “It is a very dangerous precedent to set for the legal profession when individual lawyers can have their otherwise sterling qualifications denigrated based solely on the clients that their organizations represent.”

In the wake of Adegbile’s rejected nomination, we in the pro bono community must heighten our vigilance and redouble our efforts to uphold access to justice.

March 26, 2014

Guest Blog: Repeat In-House Attendee – PBI Annual Conference

I have been attending the PBI Annual Conference for several years and have had the opportunity to present to and speak with many of the participants. However, this year was a truly unique experience for me.

The first thing that struck me was the increased number of familiar faces. Based on my observations, it seemed like more and more people were refreshing connections. While making new connections is a key component of this Conference, having these established connections allowed participants to jump straight into a higher level of conversation. Instead of being asked “What type of projects are you doing?” I heard questions like “How is that new project that you kicked off last year doing?” The result was deeper discussions around successes and obstacles. And, instead of just nods of understanding, I heard more recommendations for overcoming those obstacles.

Seeing all of this in just the first few hours of the Conference, I decided to take a detour into the “In-House Pro Bono: The Basics” session for those starting or re-launching a pro bono program. While Hewlett-Packard Company** is definitely not in this category, I thought it would be nice to be a fly on the wall and hear how more and more companies are creating programs. When I walked into the room, I immediately noticed how much smaller this space was compared to when I first attended this session several years ago. To my surprise, only a few attendees were actually from companies starting brand-new programs. In fact, there were several “flies” like me at this session. This was a pleasure for me to see knowing how much bigger the “established program” session was in comparison and relative to my first year attending the Conference.

There has been a shift, and it is monumental. As a representative of the in-house community, I am proud to see that in-house attorneys are becoming more involved in pro bono and becoming experts in this area. I am also excited to see the evolution of the PBI Annual Conference as many of us begin to advance into “graduate-level” topics. And for those of you that are just starting out, there is now more knowledge and experience than ever before that you can leverage. This is a win for us, a win for PBI, and most importantly a win for the communities that we live in and serve.

Todd Tabor is Associate General Counsel, HP Enterprise Security Products and created HP’s DC Area Pro Bono program.

**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge®

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