We at The PBEye are inspired every day by the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatories. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the launch of the CPBO Challenge® initiative, we are showcasing some of their projects with the hope that they inspire you, too.
Legal communities across the country are turning toward unbundled legal services to improve access to justice. In 2015, inspired by this trend and by the possibilities of expanding justice for Connecticut’s disabled veterans, UnitedHealth Group** (UHG) and The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) launched Review-a-Rama, a model for limited-scope pro bono assistance by in-house legal staff.
UHG and CVLC are now mid-way through the third round of Review-a-Rama. More than 170 UHG law department employees from across 26 states pledged to review over 30,000 pages of veteran medical and military files between Memorial Day and Veterans Day 2016. With this major effort underway, we can now report on our successes and lessons learned thus far.
The Solution to a Tremendous Need
In designing Review-a-Rama, CVLC and UHG sought to alleviate a bottleneck in CVLC’s workflow while also providing short-term volunteer opportunities for employees in UHG’s legal department, including paralegal and administrative staff. The Review-a-Rama project model allows CVLC attorneys to more efficiently handle cases that require the time-consuming review of very large medical and military files by engaging UHG employees to handle those initial reviews. Single files can number more than 1,000 pages apiece and take hours to review carefully for pertinent evidence.
UHG employees go through a training program with CVLC on how to conduct their reviews and CVLC shares file-specific instructions on what types of information to look for in each case. The more detailed the instructions for each file, the more equipped volunteers are to have a productive volunteer experience.
When they receive their file, UHG volunteers read the documents and parse out important content. Volunteers then summarize the content for CVLC attorneys, creating an evidentiary timeline with page references to the primary source material. Volunteers send the evidentiary timelines back to CVLC attorneys, who use them to provide faster turnaround on case merit assessments, client advisements, and brief writing.
The Right Match
Review-a-Rama works because it strikes the right note between providing an important service to CVLC’s clients and harnessing the energy, skills, and generosity of a large group of UHG volunteers. Engaging volunteers for unbundled document review provides a significant service to CVLC’s clients.
Review-a-Rama not only requires the time and attention of the UHG volunteers who review files, it also requires a significant collaborative planning effort by UHG project leads Denise Zamore, Eric Greenberg, and Emily Robakiewicz. Frequent, regular phone calls between UHG and CVLC allowed the team to brainstorm creative ideas and anticipate challenges together as the project expanded.
UHG Deputy General Counsel and Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair Brian DuPerre, who has been an active part of the project team said, “It’s been exciting to see this concept grow from a local pilot program with 27 participants to a national pro bono project open to all of our 1,300 plus law department colleagues across the country. To have 13 percent of our law department volunteering their skills on a single project is unprecedented since we have staff in nearly every corner of the country.” When we think about why this program has been so successful we reflect on the lessons learned. DuPerre added, “A key lesson for us has been to keep this simple, effective and efficient by permitting volunteers to pick their commitment level as well as the time period in which to complete their tasks.”
CVLC Executive Director Margaret Middleton describes the culture of the partnership. “We are really grateful to the UHG team for helping us figure out how to make this novel idea work,” Middleton said. “This was a collaborative brainstorm. It’s great when you have a corporate partner who is open to reviewing and enhancing the process with you.” Trying out ideas, making changes to improve the process with each iteration, and the importance of open communication have all been instrumental qualities of this partnership and have set the stage for Review-a-Rama’s success.
The Bottom Line
UHG’s epic effort in Review-a-Rama has helped CVLC achieve its mission. For clients of CVLC, legal services can mean the difference between stable housing, accessible healthcare, and a steady income – or living on the street. CVLC’s mission is to assist veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness in removing barriers to health, housing, and income.
CVLC’s attorneys appreciate the help in providing more efficient services to clients. CVLC Senior Counsel Christy Fischer expressed her gratitude saying, “Review-A-Rama has been a wonderful expansion of CVLC’s ability to assist veterans. The RAR teams have allowed CVLC staff attorneys to timely review numerous files. The additional eyes on the case have proved invaluable.”
The size and scope of the volunteer engagement in Review-a-Rama reflects a willingness and desire on the part of UHG employees to provide meaningful assistance to veterans. As one volunteer said, “I am thankful for this opportunity to assist the State of Connecticut and our Veterans.” In order to serve veterans who have served us, it seems fitting to honor Connecticut’s by mobilizing a small army of volunteers.
Millie VandenBroek is the Howard R. Udell Staff Attorney and Cara Cancelmo is the Director of Development and Communications at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center.
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory