The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

March 2012

March 27, 2012

VIDEO: 2012 Annual Conference Starts Tomorrow

The 2012 PBI Annual Conference starts tomorrow. Can you believe it’s here already!?  The PBEye can’t, and we’ll be tossing and turning all night in anticipation of this year’s event.

If you’ve never been to the Conference or you’ve been so busy implementing everything you learned last year that you’ve forgotten what it’s like, here’s a video explaining what you’re in for.  We’ll also keep you updated on this year’s happenings right here at The PBEye and @ProBonoInst (and if you’re tweeting, be sure to use #PBI2012).

March 26, 2012

Got a “Tweet” Tooth?

You’ve probably already guessed that The PBEye is a big fan of social media (more here and here).   And we’re excited to report that, this year, the Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference is going to be Twitter-friendly!  You read that right, folks!  You can tweet till your heart’s content, live from the Conference. 

For the first time ever, all sessions are open to tweeting — and we want you to tweet your experiences at the Annual Conference.  Of course, in keeping with the uniqueness of our Conference, we adhere to the “What happens at the PBI Annual Conference stays at the PBI Annual Conference” rule, and ask that our tweeters not attribute remarks to participants.

So, if you’re coming to the Conference later this week, please use the hashtag #pbi2012.  And just for fun, look out for our friends, @lisawborden, @ProBonoDude, @sweetblogomine, and @nicholas_patrick, whom we hope to see tweeting from the Conference as well.  Will you be at the Conference?  Why not think about live tweeting — and definitely give us a shout at @probonoinst.  We’d love to hear from you!

March 26, 2012

Partner Award Nominations

The PBEye wants to remind you that there’s just one month left to submit your nominations for the 2012 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award.  The award 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.  The CPBO Partner Award will be presented at the Pro Bono Institute Annual Dinner on November 15,  in New York.

Last year’s award was presented to Verizon Communications Inc.**, in partnership with DLA Piper LLP*†, for their collaborative effort to address veterans, education, and domestic violence issues through pro bono work.  Previous awardees include Accenture plc**, Caterpillar Inc.**, and Merck & Co., Inc.**;in partnership with Baker & McKenzie*† and PILnet; Aetna Inc.**with Lawyers for Children America and Bet Tzedek Legal Services in cooperation with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP*†; The Williams Companies, Inc.** in partnership with Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, P.C., and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma; 3M Company** with Children’s Law Center of Minnesota; Microsoft Corporation** and Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice with collaborating law firms Davis Wright Tremaine LLP*†, Dorsey & Whitney LLP*†, Heller Ehrman LLP, Holland & Knight LLP*†, Perkins Coie LLP*†, Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, and Riddell Williams P.S.

Nominations are due April 27, and may be submitted either electronically or in hard copy to CPBO.  For more information about the award or to request a nomination form, please contact Eve Runyon, director of Corporate Pro Bono, 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 ChallengeSM

March 23, 2012

A “True Champion of Equality” Gone Too Soon

The PBEye was saddened to hear of the passing of John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  Payton was a lifelong champion for equal rights and justice.  Going back to his time at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP*, he embraced pro bono as a critical part of his practice and used his influence to encourage colleagues at the firm to promote pro bono work. 

Tributes have come pouring in in his memory, including President Obama:

“A true champion of equality, [Payton] helped protect civil rights in the classroom and at the ballot box.  The legal community has lost a legend, and while we mourn John’s passing, we will never forget his courage and fierce opposition to discrimination in all its forms.”

Covington & Burling LLP*‘s Thomas Williamson:

“He was really an exemplar of somebody who was both conscious and imaginative about how you can use the resources of a large law firm to advance the interests of justice and to protect the most needy and vulnerable people in our society.”

PBI‘s own Esther F. Lardent:

“John Payton made his mark in our profession in so many arenas – as a government lawyer, a law firm partner , a bar association president, and a public interest leader. Wherever he worked, he was a force for justice and equality and an inspiration to us all. He will be sorely missed.”

Payton’s legacy will live on through his work and the work of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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

March 22, 2012

From Annual Conference . . . to Major Litigation

At the 2010 Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference, we were pleased to highlight a then month-old, cutting-edge initiative of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network (LMSPN).  Millions of distressed homeowners are vulnerable targets to devious and sometimes criminal third-party scammers and con artists.  Underwater homeowners, desperate to keep their homes, are at risk from so-called “loan modification specialists,” some of whom are the very people who previously peddled subprime loans.  They employ various scams with disastrous consequences for homeowners.  While waiting for the promised relief, homeowners not only lose their money but often fall deeper into default and lose valuable time.  These scammers are highly mobile and easily able to move from one community to another.  In addition, resources both at the governmental level in prosecuting scammers and legal aid organizations in assisting or representing individual homeowners are stretched thin.

The LMSPN was created, in partnership with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others, to strengthen the fight against scammers and support existing law enforcement efforts at the national, state, and local levels.  As part of this initiative, with the help of pro bono assistance, the Lawyers’ Committee has created a database to document scams, which, since its inception just two years ago, has logged more than 21,000 complaints from homeowners nationwide, representing more than $60 million lost to such scams.

Recently, the Lawyers’ Committee, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and K&L Gates LLP*† filed the sixth lawsuit as part of the LMSPN, and one of the first cases filed in federal court to allege a violation of the Fair Housing Act based on a mortgage assistance scam.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Woodbridge, Va. couple who had been victimized by scammers that allegedly prey on vulnerable Hispanic homeowners for whom English is a second language.  The complaint alleges that the couple was induced to hand over the title to their home for no money and to enter into a “lease agreement” whereby they would pay thousands of dollars to “rent” their home while a purchase of the mortgage was arranged.  As a result of the scam, the couple has defaulted on their primary mortgage, subjecting them to a risk of foreclosure and damage to their credit.  The complaint alleges that the targeting of Hispanics violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act.  Moreover, law enforcement officials in Colorado recently initiated an enforcement action against the same scammer for similar operations throughout the country.

K&L Gates joins a number of firms who have gotten involved with the LMSPN and have done tremendous pro bono work on behalf of eligible loan modification scam victims. Working to stop unscrupulous scammers is a meaningful way for law firms to make a significant pro bono contribution without running afoul of ethical concerns about conflicts of interest.  Unlike foreclosure or load modification work, loan scam projects do not address the underlying mortgage and, as a result, a great majority of major law firms should not have a conflict.

Have you done pro bono work as part of the LMSPN or other projects related to the housing crisis?  Leave a comment and tell us about your experience.

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

March 20, 2012

VIDEO: 26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story

In November, PBI was honored to hear from Dewey Bozella at the 2011 PBI Annual Dinner in New York.  Bozella, an amateur boxer who was wrongly imprisoned for 26 years, was exonerated in 2008 with the hard work of pro bono attorneys at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP*.  Bozella subsequently received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage and won his first and only professional boxing match.

Now, Bozella’s story, and the hard work of WilmerHale, is the subject of an hour-long documentary by ESPN Films.  We at The PBEye, are happy to see this kind of attention paid to a story in which the fight for access to justice is at the core.  Kudos to ESPN — and especially to Bozella and his team of attorneys.

Meanwhile, we’re still touched by Bozella’s remarks from the dinner, which can be seen in the video below.

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

March 20, 2012

Bite-Size Pro Bono Opportunities

Many law firm and in-house lawyers are interested in pro bono but hesitate to participate due to concerns about time constraints.  They may be apprehensive about making open-ended, unlimited time commitments, taking on projects that require an immediate response and conflict with other duties, or both.  Recognizing these concerns, firms and legal departments have begun exploring and offering time-limited pro bono opportunities to their lawyers and legal staff.

At our upcoming Annual Conference, PBI will present “Time-Limited Pro Bono,” a session led by Jim Bishop, program director at the Archdiocesan Legal Network; Andy Fisher, counsel at Exxon Mobil ; and Karen Grisez, public service counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP*†.  The panelists will discuss the importance of finite pro bono opportunities at their respective organizations and provide examples of successful models that can be replicated at other firms and legal departments.   These tried-and-true approaches will help convince busy lawyers and pro bono novices alike to get involved with discrete yet meaningful projects.

Drop us a line to learn more about the Annual Conference.  We hope to see you later this month in Washington, D.C.!

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


March 19, 2012

VIDEO: WDPB – Cheryl Naja, Alston & Bird LLP

Why do pro bono?  Why not?  Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, but we at The PBEye have been grateful to have great friends and supporters who can explain the many important reasons to do pro bono legal work.

This week hear from Cheryl Naja, pro bono and community service manager at Alston & Bird LLP* about why it’s important to do pro bono.

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

March 19, 2012

Large Firms Embracing Social Media

In a previous post on The PBEye, our friend Lisa W. Borden, pro bono shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.* wrote about the importance of social media to a law firm’s business and gave some tips on how firms can be savvier in promoting their pro bono work online.  Now, a recent article in The Washington Post depicts a growing trend.  “Leaders at several top 100 firms are for the first time hiring full-time social media specialists to manage firms’ LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter accounts, and many more are making a concerted effort to prioritize social media outreach in marketing campaigns.”

Large law firms are beginning to realize that their growing presence on social networking and blogging sites can bring in clients.  Based on results from a recent survey mentioned in the article, now “20 percent of law firms have a full-time social media specialist on staff, and about 40 percent said blogging and social networking initiatives have helped the firm land new work.”  The PBEye expects to see this upward trend climb as firms continue to see results from building new relationships using modern methods of communication.

In order to help firms capitalize on their social media presence, PBI will discuss the topic at our 2012 Annual Conference in the session “Please ‘Like’ Me: Using Social Media to Enhance Pro Bono.”  We will talk about how to best use free tools like blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook in order to improve pro bono programs marketing, recruiting, and gathering intelligence.

*denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

March 16, 2012

Creative Initiative Helps LA’s Homeless

In Los Angeles County, a coalition of nonprofit, business, and city leaders have found permanent housing for more than 3,000 veterans and chronically homeless people.  It is the result of a new initiative called Home for Good, a project that plans to end long-term homelessness nationwide by 2016.  This unique effort was launched by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles in partnership with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.   The Los Angeles Times reported, “More than 100 community leaders and organizations — including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, several cities and housing authorities, law enforcement officials and nonprofits — have endorsed the plan.”  Among the signatories is Hernan Vera, a friend of PBI who is President and CEO of the nonprofit Public Counsel.  A representative from Bingham McCutchen LLP*† is serving on Home for Good’s Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness which supervises the plan’s implementation.  The PBEye is excited to see this new partnership grow among city, nonprofit and business professionals to support the homeless with a more unified approach.

To date, the program has exceeded its goals by housing a total of 2,273 chronically homeless and 864 veterans.  Home for Good is specifically focused on these populations because according to experts, the chronically homeless use a “disproportionate share of public services, including hospital emergency rooms and jails.”  The number of homeless vets has increased from 7,400 to 9,100 in the past two years, and surveyors predict this number will continue to rise as veterans return from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Home for Good “proposes reallocating about $230 million in existing resources each year to pay for permanent supportive housing, which includes counseling and treatment to help keep people off the streets.”  We applaud this creative collaboration that has resulted in a greater commitment of public resources.  With a long-range plan in place and community support, we look forward to hearing about Home for Good’s progress in the future.

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

† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

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