The 2013 PBI Annual Conference featured two fast-paced “Marketplace of Ideas” sessions, including one dedicated to cutting-edge transactional pro bono projects. During these sessions, participants shared experiences and attendees learned about novel opportunities, offerings, infrastructure, and other creative and replicable pro bono developments.
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:
Access to Justice Fellowships
Sue Finegan, from Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C.*†, discussed how her firm worked with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission to create the Access to Justice Fellows Program, in which senior lawyers partner with nonprofit and legal services organizations to provide critical legal assistance. The program arose out of two emerging trends. First, despite growing demand, extreme cutbacks in funds have forced legal services providers and other nonprofit organizations to reduce staff and services. Second, as PBI’s Second Acts project has pioneered, many experienced lawyers are approaching retirement age but wish to remain active and help people and organizations in need.
The program launched in September 2012, with seven Fellows and one honorary Fellow, former Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall. For one academic year, Fellows commit 10 to 20 hours per week to individual pro bono projects. Currently, Fellows are working with organizations such as Greater Boston Legal Services, Lawyers Clearinghouse, and Lutheran Social Services of New England to tackle complex issues such as immigration and post-prison reentry. Fellows receive extensive support from the program and training from the nonprofit organizations with which they are working.
Home Daycare Assistance Project
Regina Hopkins described an initiative of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Community Economic Development Project to assist home-based daycare providers. In many communities, low-income, non-English speaking women provide childcare in their homes, and it can be difficult for them to successfully navigate complex zoning laws and other regulations without counsel. For example, in Washington, D.C., under current zoning regulations, residential home daycare centers can only accommodate six children and they need a special exception to provide care for up to 12 children.
The project matches each eligible client with a pro bono lawyer who assists her through the regulatory process. There are currently several daycare centers operating while others are going through the regulatory process. While the program is relatively new, the childcare centers that are up and running have quickly become invaluable assets to their communities. Not only do they provide low-income families with access to affordable childcare so they can pursue their own employment and educational opportunities, they also offer a livelihood for the providers.
Pro Bono Excellence Award
Scott Kearns spoke about Dell Inc.’s** innovative Pro Bono Excellence Award, which Dell created to highlight the valuable assistance law firms have provided to its pro bono program. In 2011, Vinson & Elkins LLP*† received the first Pro Bono Excellence Award for helping Dell staff monthly clinics hosted by Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas and Rio Grande Legal Aid. Baker Botts L.L.P.*† won the award in 2012 for the firm’s extensive work with Dell lawyers on behalf of Austin Children’s Shelter and Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas.
Kearns emphasized that the award is not only a great way to publicly honor law firms for their dedication to pro bono, it also highlights the importance of collaboration between law firms and legal departments. For a variety of reasons, it is often difficult for in-house counsel to engage in pro bono activities. With assistance from law firms, legal departments gain the critical resources and infrastructure needed to successfully carry out a pro bono project.
Look out for more information on other innovative pro bono projects featured during our Marketplace of Ideas sessions next week! We look forward to learning more and sharing other replicable ideas and projects at the 2014 PBI Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 5-7. 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 Pro Bono Project Director Tammy Taylor (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