The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
June 14, 2012

Marketplace of Pro Bono Ideas

The 2012 Pro Bono Institute Annual Conference featured two “Marketplace of Ideas” sessions during which participants shared their experiences and attendees learned about novel and replicable opportunities, offerings, infrastructure, and other pro bono developments.  New this year was the “Transactional Marketplace of Ideas”—a fast paced session dedicated to sharing cutting-edge transactional pro bono projects.

We received an outpouring of positive feedback regarding these exciting sessions.  The PBEye is pleased to share these ideas with the hope that they may serve to guide and inspire others to think creatively, strategically, and collaboratively about future pro bono projects.  A few of the projects featured include:

Bankruptcy in a Box
Dionna Litvin from Merck & Co., Inc**, shared this example of an effective and efficient model of a transactional pro bono partnership.  Due to a drastic increase in bankruptcy filings, Merck & Co., Inc., Lowenstein Sandler PC*†, and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) created a bankruptcy clinic in New Jersey in 2009 to address the growing need for assistance.   The Merck Company Foundation provided significant funding for a staff position to support the program.  Through this initiative, volunteer attorneys from Merck and Lowenstein Sandler provide direct assistance to economically disadvantaged individuals with the preparation and filing of their Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions, representation at subsequent hearings, and meetings with the trustees appointed to the cases.  Most Merck volunteers handle two bankruptcy cases each year.

Inventor Assistance Program
Candee Goodman, now retired from Lindquist & Vennum PLLP*†, and John Calvert from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, discussed a new nationwide initiative to produce pro bono patent assistance to eligible inventors.  The program is designed to be a resource for lawyers at law firms and legal departments looking to do pro bono work, while helping jumpstart the U.S. economy.

The Minnesota LegalCORPS Inventor Assistance Program was launched last June.  Since then, more than 180 patent attorneys have volunteered their time so far to support the Minnesota project.  LegalCORPS, a local nonprofit legal services provider, facilitates the program by handling intake screening, client and volunteer attorney matching, and other administrative tasks.

The program goal, with support from the business community, legal services providers, law schools, the judiciary, the Federal Circuit Bar Association, and other organizations, is to expand by four more similar programs across the country by the end of 2012.  The programs will be based in Denver, the Washington, D.C. metro area, California, and Texas.  In addition, starting this summer, the Nationwide Clearinghouse will begin operation, allowing a single entry point for all eligible inventors and small businesses to receive pro bono assistance.  This nationwide program will allow the program to assist individuals regardless of where they are located in the U.S., without having to wait for their region to offer a formalized inventor pro bono program.

Attorney Rotation Program
Erica Knievel from Hogan Lovells* spoke about the firm’s pro bono department, which dates back to 1969, and the rotating attorney positions within the department.  Junior associates cycle through different commercial practice groups before deciding which one they want to join permanently, and they can complete a rotation through the pro bono department as well.   Each rotation can last for up to 18 months.  Currently, there are three to five junior associates on a four-month rotation.  The pro bono department is staffed with a senior associate, who joins the department on an 18-month basis and is selected for this position by firm management in a competitive process.  In addition to associates, a partner heads the pro bono department on a full-time, multi-year basis, typically for three years after which the partner returns to his/her commercial practice.  This partner is held in high regard and is a role model for all associates.  Erica described the many valuable aspects of this unique “internal” attorney rotation program.


Look out for information on the other innovative pro bono projects featured in our Marketplace of Ideas sessions next week!  We look forward to learning more and sharing other replicable ideas and projects at the 2013 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 14-16.  We invite those wishing to serve as presenters to submit brief proposals in advance describing their initiatives, to ensure adequate planning and capacity.  Please send submissions to Law Firm Project Assistant Christine Sutherland.  (Due to time limitations, we may not be able to accept all proposals.)

* 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