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Guest Blog

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 Children (and girls in particular) are often withdrawn from school to collect water for their families.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 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®

May 14, 2013

Guest Blog: Work in Progress – Pro bono and the In-house Counsel Population?

I have had the opportunity to serve on the Multijurisdictional Practice Task Force (a joint initiative of PBI and CPBO) for a little over a year. When the purpose of the Task Force was being explained to me, its mission sounded like an easy sell: help change states’ practice rules to allow in-house counsel operating on limited licenses to do pro bono.

Most states have practice rules that allow in-house lawyers working locally but licensed in another jurisdiction to practice solely for their employers without going through the full bar process (“in-house counsel rules”), but many of those rules don’t provide a similar pro bono exception. My initial take was that this issue arose from a simple, if wide-spread, drafting omission unintentionally preventing skilled lawyers from helping those in need. Since it is commonly known that the need for pro bono services in most jurisdictions far outstrips supply, we would point out the oversight to the states, and presto, the pool of lawyers available to do pro bono in any given state gets bigger at almost no cost to the state’s government. As Lee Corso says on ESPN’s College Gameday, “not so fast, my friend.” Seems it’s a bit more complicated than that. Were I more astute, the fact that there was a task force on the issue should have dispelled my notions of simplicity.

As the Task Force discussed its activities in various states, I learned that people deeply committed to pro bono and the important work of helping those in legal need can have very different takes on how to tackle the issue. For those states that have included some pro bono exception in their in-house counsel rules, there are roughly two camps. The Task Force endorses the approach taken by Virginia, Colorado, and Illinois, which permit lawyers practicing on in-house counsel licenses to provide pro bono assistance in the state so long as their representation is consistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct. The other approach requires that all activity be conducted through established/accredited pro bono legal services providers, and/or that the in-house lawyers are fully supervised by locally licensed lawyers.

I was recently involved in an effort to amend the in-house counsel rules in Minnesota, the headquarters of my employer and home to a surprisingly large number of Fortune 500 companies. The proposal to amend the rule was drafted by members of the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners and the Minnesota State Bar Association, and took the approach noted above requiring in-house lawyers to work with an approved legal services provider. The proposal was approved by the Minnesota Supreme Court, with an expansion to allow all lawyers in Minnesota admitted under the in-house counsel rules to engage in pro bono (Minnesota has two in-house counsel rules, one for practice lasting less than one year and one for ongoing practice, and the proposal had only requested changes to the ongoing practice rule).

In speaking with representatives of the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners, as well as some of the established legal services organizations in the state, I experienced first-hand their commitment to pro bono. This led me to reflect on the difference between the two approaches to in-house counsel pro bono I’ve described. After pondering a bit, I believe that their support for the more limited approach to in-house counsel pro bono stems from two primary concerns:  quality control and resource constraints. Given these organizations’ purposes and goals, this focus is both sensible and logical. Most legal services organizations suffer from an insufficient supply of lawyers to meet the needs of the populations they serve, and also have practical, experience-based insight into how best to direct their limited resources to maximize their impact. Similarly, because pro bono clients often have a number of disadvantages, it is critical to ensure that any legal services provided to that population meet the highest standards of practice and avoid any unintentional harm. By channeling the additional lawyers participating under the in-house counsel exception to accredited providers that have clear expertise in the pro bono services they offer, both of those concerns are addressed.

My experiences on the Task Force, and in my work as an in-house lawyer, however, have illustrated some challenges with this approach. One of the main ones is the type of work that legal services organizations provide to individuals in need. Most of the work is court-focused or involves direct representation or legal counseling on civil or criminal matters, and many in-house lawyers have neither the background nor interest in doing this type of legal work (it is often one of the reasons we end up drawn to in-house roles). As a result, these providers are frequently not able to leverage the broad array of skills that in-house lawyers can offer: negotiating leases or real estate deals for nonprofit organizations; completing 501(c)(3) incorporation or accompanying tax documents; advising nonprofits on compliance with regulatory requirements; or helping artists protect their intellectual property rights, to name a few. I am not arguing about the merit or value of one type of pro bono work over another, but I do believe that the conversation can be dominated by a focus on more traditional types of pro bono activity. Allowing in-house lawyers to provide pro bono assistance based on their developed skill sets helps to leverage those skills and address underserved pro bono needs. The local Rules of Professional Conduct offer strong protections for pro bono clients, and as Virginia, Illinois, and Colorado demonstrate, relying on such protections is and removing other restrictions is a viable means to expanding pro bono participation by the in-house community.

My hope is to contribute to further dialogue about this difference in approach to pro bono in in-house counsel rules. Understanding some of the factors that may underpin a contrary view can help both sides negotiate and reach a better result. And, setting aside the difference in approach to in-house pro bono, the result in Minnesota is a tremendous step forward in providing lawyers the opportunity to use their training to help others. At their core, I firmly believe that is all both sides want, and look forward to continuing this work.

Adam Hellman is a Senior Associate General Counsel in the UnitedHealth Group** Corporate Legal Department where he supports the Government Affairs function, and has oversight responsibilities for enterprise lobbying compliance and enterprise conflicts of interest disclosure and review. Prior to joining UnitedHealth Group, Hellman worked in the Washington, D.C., office of O’Melveny & Myers*.

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

November 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Attorneys, Advocates, and Law Students Collaborate with Appleseed to Reimagine U.S. Immigration Courts

By Betsy Cavendish, Appleseed, and Malcolm Rich and Katy Welter, Chicago Appleseed

Collaborating across firms, disciplines, and cities, a team of attorneys, advocates, and law students evaluated the federal Immigration Court system and recently released its findings in “Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line:  Transformative Change for the Immigration Justice System.”  The report is the product of a model approach to pro bono advocacy efforts, and work to implement its reforms has already begun. 

“Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line” grades the U.S. Immigration Court system’s response to recommendations from the team’s 2009 “Assembly Line Injustice” report. Pro bono attorney teams from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP*† and Latham & Watkins LLP*† partnered with Appleseed’s flagship office and affiliate Chicago Appleseed on both investigations. The 2009 report detailed a number of failings in the Immigration Court process, and true to the Appleseed model, proposed realistic, achievable recommendations for reform.

Soon after the 2009 report’s release, its lead author, Steven Schulman, pro bono partner at Akin Gump, began planning a follow-up as part of its outreach to persuade Obama administration officials to adopt policies in line with the recommendations.  The report gave tough grades – no A’s, lots of C’s, and even an F – but Schulman complimented the administration both on achieving some progress and being open with pro bono counsel:

“The cooperation and [openness] from the administration was really exemplary. Especially the Executive Office for Immigration Review, but the Department of Homeland Security, too, was more open than in the past.”

Both Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed are dedicated to achieving upstream, systemic changes to make our justice system fair to all. Pro bono lawyers contributed nearly all of the research. Latham & Watkins dedicated more than 900 hours over the past year, and this year alone, Akin Gump’s lawyers have devoted nearly 400 pro bono hours. A member of the Appleseed Board of Directors and an immigration law expert, Schulman was also the lead author of the most recent report.

The project was an ideal pro bono opportunity for both firms.  Deadlines were somewhat flexible, making the large project manageable internally, and it was inspiring to a number of volunteers to be able to work on a project that could impact tens to hundreds of thousands of cases.

“Many of our attorneys work on immigration cases.  It’s rewarding to take the collective wisdom – as well as frustration – of the firm’s attorneys and our allies and translate it into calls for systemic reforms,” Schulman said.  “Akin Gump also has a robust government affairs practice.  It’s great to use our expertise in government operations for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.”

Latham & Watkins Associate Matthew Cronin remarked:

The Appleseed project allowed junior attorneys at the firms to get a lot of substantive experience in court proceedings and to look at the law from a different perspective. Attorneys normally analyze the law through the lens of litigation.   With Appleseed, we look at what the policy should be, rather than just the precedent and rules of evidence.  It is a different type of advocacy that focuses on systemic rather than individual considerations.  Given political and economic realities, we proposed feasible changes to enhance the justice, efficiency, and legitimacy of the immigration courts. 

The project provided leadership opportunities for Cronin and one-of-a-kind experiences for a group of law students as well.  Cronin coordinated with George Washington University Law School Dean of Public Interest and Public Service Law David Johnson to lead a short-term legal clinic specifically for this project. As part of the clinic, GW Law students conducted dozens of court observations, which provided the researchers with perspective on the current system and made a powerful contribution to the report.

The team is already celebrating major policy changes recommended in both the 2009 and 2012 efforts.  Less than one month after the 2012 report release, the Department of Homeland Security announced a policy lifting the threat of deportation for two years for certain young immigrants. The Appleseed team applauded the change and raised the grade on one section of the report.  The team will focus on local and efficient implementation of such policies as it accelerates its advocacy phase. However, both Schulman and Cronin noted that federal policy promises aren’t always implemented locally in the intended way or time frame.

Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed both hold as a core belief that civically-engaged pro bono lawyers play a powerful watchdog function and can help bridge the gap between policy and practice.

May 4, 2012

Guest Blog: ExxonMobil’s Conference Experience

I really enjoyed this year’s PBI Annual Conference. It is such a great opportunity to connect with other professionals who care deeply about pro bono. I think it is very helpful to discuss areas of concern and challenges with others in the field that who can provide the benefit of their experiences. Our program at ExxonMobil in Northern Virginia is still fairly new and I appreciate the assistance that I always receive from the other participants at the Conference.

At this year’s meeting I was asked to participate in a panel on the topic of “Time-Limited Pro Bono.”. The idea for the session is that some attorneys would likely be more willing to participate in pro bono if they had shorter, finite opportunities that weren’t open-ended time commitments like some pro bono work can be. For example, attorneys that who have not previously done pro bono or younger attorneys could especially benefit from these types of opportunities. Also on the panel with me were Karen Grisez of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP* in Washington, D.C., and James Bishop with Catholic Charities, also in D.C.

At ExxonMobil’s Northern Virginia office, we participate in two projects that are fairly limited in their time commitment so I shared with the group attending our session a brief overview of our Wills Clinics and our Domestic Violence Attorney-of-the-Day programs. We participate in both programs in partnership with Hunton & Williams LLP* and Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV), and both programs have afforded our Northern Virginia ExxonMobil lawyers, paralegals, and support staff the opportunity to provide meaningful community service by way of short, time-limited projects.

Our Wills Clinics last only one day, with the ExxonMobil and Hunton & Williams attorneys and paralegals meeting initially with the LSNV clients to assess needs and gather information. While the clients have lunch, the legal professionals draft the legal documents that were requested. When the clients return from lunch they review the documents and any needed final revisions made. We execute, notarize, and make copies of the documents for the clients and send them on their way.

Each month a volunteer lawyer from ExxonMobil is paired with a volunteer lawyer from Hunton & Williams, and supported by a paralegal from one of the offices to participate in LSNV’s Domestic Violence Attorney-of-the-Day program. About two weeks in advance of the hearing date, our professionals receive the in-take files for each of the LSNV domestic violence clients (usually from one to five). The attorneys and paralegals meet with the clients to gather evidence and prepare arguments for a protective order and other, specified ancillary remedies, as appropriate.

Our attorneys and paralegals have responded very favorably to our programs and I was pleased to be able to share the ideas with others.

Karen and James also shared with the group a number of excellent ideas for time-limited pro bono, and then we had time for the entire group to share ideas and ask questions. All in all it was a very collaborative session and I was glad to have had the opportunity to participate.

Andrew Fisher is counsel, Fuels Marketing Law Section at Exxon Mobil Corporation.

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

April 12, 2012

Guest Blog: “Insurmountable Opportunities”

One of the speakers at the PBI Annual Conference this year offered a quote from the classic comic strip philosopher Pogo as an apt description of the current state of pro bono, “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”  One of the greatest benefits of attending the Conference for me (for the first time), was the sense of instant community I had with the people I met — bright, energetic, dedicated professionals, all faced with the same set of insurmountable opportunities.

When I signed on to attend the Conference, I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to get out of it.  I am proud of our pro bono program – we have consistently met our goals for participation, we have a variety of opportunities with varying levels of time commitment, in an array of legal areas, and have strong relationships with legal services partners and private firms.

That said, we haven’t seen many new participants sign on, and while we are doing very well, I’d love to be able to say we are knocking people’s socks off.  So I signed up to attend to see what others are up to, maybe to get some ideas to help tweak our program around the edges. I got so much more than I expected.

There is a natural cycle of renewal that individuals and organizations go through – from an energetic “go for it” phase, through “the doldrums,” marked by dissatisfaction and stagnation, to “cocooning” when we tend to withdraw and become more internally focused, and finally to a stage of “getting ready” where we make plans and prepare to take on the world with renewed excitement and energy, reentering the “go for it” phase.

As I discussed the pro bono programs of others, and was in return was asked for details of our program, I realized that perhaps without noticing I had personally slipped into a bit of a cocooning phase with our program.  I’ll admit have been mostly content to let it run on auto-pilot for a while, and had kind of decided that “good enough” is good enough.

It is hard to maintain that outlook while being exposed to new ideas and creative people.  In our session on “Recognition” one of the speakers taught an excellent lesson – even though you will probably leave somebody out (and need to apologize) don’t let that stop you from making the effort to acknowledge those you can remember.  On that principle, I am going to list some of the most exciting ideas from my experience at the Conference.  This list is in no particular order, and I am sure I’ll miss lots of good things, and is entirely personal, so please don’t be offended if your idea isn’t on the list.  The point is, if you haven’t been to the PBI Annual Conference, you are missing out on a great opportunity to find what inspires you.

  • Everybody loves to be recognized – but different people value different things.  One person’s frameable certificate is another person’s recycling.  Don’t let that stop you from trying.  Try a variety of strategies to increase your chances.
  • Beware the “toxic if-then” motivation system.  Studies have shown that material rewards can actually kill enthusiasm to do good.  A “thanks for that – here’s a small gift” works better than “If you do 30 hours of pro bono, you will earn a bonus.”
  • Don’t knock yourself out trying to get everybody on board.  Create a system that builds enthusiasm and enables maximum impact for those (nearly all of us) who are very inclined, or somewhat inclined, to do good.  Don’t worry about the small percentage of scrooges.  Absent ghostly intervention, there’s nothing you can do.
  • Enthusiasm starts at the top and grows downward.  Over and over again, panelists stressed the importance of real dedication and involvement by the GC or managing partner.  If you don’t have that in your organization, commitment to pro bono will be hard to inspire at every level.
  • Don’t despair, though – there are excellent ways to motivate your GC or managing partner.  Take a look at the research from Dr. Larry Richard on what motivates lawyers.  That should give you some ideas.  For example, lawyers are very influenced by “social proof”- we like to look to what others are doing as an indication of the standard for behavior.  I am sure the good folks at PBI or CPBO would love to provide a list of the other important and influential GC/MPs who are active in pro bono.
  • Each pro bono program is different, and each firm or company culture is different.  One size fits all doesn’t fit anybody.  Use the resources at and, or review the materials from the PBI sessions – they are packed with ideas, and some of them will resonate with you, I promise.

And finally, if you are like I was and had not yet attended PBI, you should really make plans.  You will get something out of it, even if you don’t know what that is in advance. The energy and hope that arises from a group of people this bright, this dedicated, this full of passion for the public good, is close to an irresistible force.  So — what happens when an insurmountable opportunity meets an irresistible force?  Some unbelievable achievements.

Christopher L. Wendt is Pro Bono Coordinator and Immigration Counsel for Mayo Clinic, a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

December 22, 2011

Guest Blog: BNY Mellon’s Pro Bono Program

The Bank of New York Mellon recently launched its pro bono program.  Learn more about it below.

Why Global Pro Bono at BNY Mellon?
When Jane Sherburne, BNY Mellon’s general counsel, asked me to chair a new Global Pro Bono Program 10 months ago, I didn’t hesitate.  Jane has been a significant supporter of pro bono service, noting that it reflects BNY Mellon’s commitment to making our communities better places to live and work, and is fundamental to our team-oriented business culture and core values: trust, teamwork, client focus and outperformance.

For perspective, in 2010, BNY Mellon and its employees around the globe donated nearly $35 million to causes they care about most, plus another 43,000 hours of volunteer service.  Adding professional legal services to the mix of our powerful and uplifting community commitment was simply irresistible.  The Global Pro Bono Program directly supports our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), philanthropy and employee engagement and volunteering initiatives.

Fostering Camaraderie
I asked Jane about her personal philosophy and while most pro bono players may start small, she felt that as a global organization, we couldn’t just target one place, country, or theme.  Jane also recognized the esprit de corps and camaraderie that would result from the opportunity to bring our legal teams together in this manner.

“Pro bono opens up a world of opportunity for our people to get involved in new challenges, helps our lawyers fulfill their professional obligations, and affects the lives of people in meaningful and lasting ways,” Jane said. 

With her full support, we launched BNY Mellon’s Global Pro Bono Program this month in six cities and three countries: New York, Jersey City, Pittsburgh, Boston, London, and Hong Kong.

The BNY Mellon Pro Bono Team

Careful Project Structuring, Online Resources Building Blocks for Team Success
Currently, we have 19 attorneys and non-attorneys on the pro bono team.  With sage counsel from Corporate Pro Bono and Eve Runyon,  we have plunged simultaneously into several tracks, establishing  subcommittees, themes and projects; interviewing and selecting legal service organizations and law firm partnerships; creating timelines, project notification processes and tracking mechanisms; and researching licensing and insurance.  Among the most important shared resources and tools for this dynamic team is a dedicated intranet microsite.  Our pro bono intranet site and Wiki pages contain policies, procedures, FAQs, matter opening and closing forms, instruction pages and chat pages.  Everything is online and in one easily accessible spot.  We’ve established regional coordinators and national theme coordinators who will also notify our attorneys and non attorneys of upcoming projects.   

Expanding BNY Mellon’s Volunteering Footprint, Earning a Charitable Gift Match
By adopting BNY Mellon’s CSR and philanthropy theme, “Community Partnership,” we’re expanding our company’s volunteering footprint, while also receiving “dollars for do-ers” or matching donations wherever possible.  Our efforts are focused on something we call “Powering Potential.”  These projects address urgent basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and disaster relief.  A second area of support within the Powering Potential framework addresses workforce development to help troubled youths, veterans, women, minorities and small businesses. 

Pro Bono Program Welcomes External Partners, Communities Benefit
We have gathered close to 12 different legal service organizations and law firm partners to join the initiative.  Together, we will work in clinics.  We’ll help disabled veterans and focus on financial literacy for low-income women and children.  We’re also looking at the pro bono support our volunteers can direct to microfinance, or to help low income families navigate through the school systems, and more.

Members of the community have already obtained free legal service following our first successful pilot clinic, held pre-launch.  And, we’re already approaching 30 pro bono volunteers!  This momentum proves that getting involved in Community Partnership is a great way of continuing to do what’s right.

Deborah H. Kaye is Managing Director and Senior Managing Counsel at The Bank of New York Mellon.  

November 2, 2011

Guest Blog: Deere Celebrates Giving Back to the Community

The Deere & Company** Global Law Services Group held its bi-annual Pro Bono and Community Service Celebration at Deere & Company’s Worldwide Headquarters in Moline, Ill., on Oct. 19.  Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride was the event’s keynote speaker.  The celebration’s theme, “Giving Back to the Community,” reflected the Global Law Services Group’s dedication to serving those in need of legal services and, more generally, Deere’s commitment to an environment in which employees are encouraged to engage in volunteerism for the betterment of their communities.

In his keynote address, Chief Justice Kilbride encouraged participation in pro bono services, quoting former Illinois Chief Justice Moses Harrison, who said:

“Our American society is premised on the promise that each of us is equal under the law. Equality is impossible if people do not have a voice to speak for them in the courts of law . . . Each of us in this room can bring that goal closer to reality.  It is our moral and professional duty. As lawyers, we have no higher calling.”

The Deere Pro Bono program officially began in 2002, and in 2007 Deere celebrated the program’s fifth anniversary with its first Pro Bono Celebration.  At that time, the Deere Pro Bono Committee, championed by Deere Senior Vice President & General Counsel Jim Jenkins, established two awards to recognize members of the Global Law Services Group who demonstrate excellence in pro bono services and dispute resolution.  The Deere Pro Bono Committee hosts the Celebration bi-annually, making this the third Pro Bono Celebration.

The Excellence in Pro Bono Services Award celebrates someone who has shown outstanding dedication and commitment in providing pro bono legal services and has inspired others to fully participate in the Pro Bono Program.  Jodi Fisk, Senior Counsel was selected as this year’s Excellence in Pro Bono Services Award recipient for her long term commitment and personal devotion to pro bono activities, and her leadership in facilitating pro bono opportunities for others.

The Steven R. Frankel Peacemaker Award for Excellence in Dispute Resolution honors the memory of Steve Frankel, a Deere attorney who passed away in 2006 after battling cancer.  Steve, an expert in the field of mediation and a steadfast pro bono advocate, established Deere’s Pro Bono Mediation partnerships with the City of Davenport Civil Rights Commission and City of Bettendorf Human Rights Commission whereby Deere attorneys and non-lawyer staff members receive mediation training and volunteer as mediators for these civil rights agencies.  This year’s award winner, Keith Steenlage, Assistant General Counsel, demonstrates excellence in dispute resolution through his mediation work, especially as a regular and valued mediator for civil rights cases.

In addition to recognizing these and other Deere Pro Bono Program participants, Deere recognized its pro bono partner organizations, including the Davenport Civil Rights Commission and Bettendorf Human Rights Commission (pro bono mediation services), The Iowa CASA Program, HELP Legal Assistance and Prairie State Legal Services (legal aid organizations), Youth Service Bureau of Rock Island County (youth peer justice program) and United Way. Deere also recognized its law firm partners at the celebration, including the Davenport, Iowa law firm Lane & Waterman LLP (Deere’s pro bono partner since 2008), and DLA Piper LLP* and Schiff Hardin LLP*, both of which recently became pro bono partners with Deere.

Many thanks to Jodi Fisk, Lisa McCraw, and Julie Olszewski at Deere & Company for their contribution to this blog.

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

June 8, 2011

Guest Blog: Social Media And Pro Bono

Pro Bono Shareholder Lisa W. Borden of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

Considering my 20+ years of law practice, I might be an old fogey, but I’m also an “early adopter” – not a techie by any stretch, but I enjoy using new technologies. I’ve been on Facebook forever, and I’m closing in on 2000 Tweets.

I first used social media for personal fun – keeping up with old friends, fomenting minor revolutions with political rantings, but began to realize how social media could be a powerful tool. Everybody needs a website – people tend not to be interested in any organization without one. When my firm got involved with the fabulous Homeless Experience Legal Protection (HELP) program, which uses volunteers to staff homeless shelter legal clinics, lack of a website was one of the first things I noticed, and soon corrected. But websites are, in general, kinda dry and rather static. There’s important information, but not much excitement. Once you’ve visited a website for a law firm, business, or pro bono program, you’re not likely to return often. Shortly after getting HELP’s website up and running, I started its Facebook page, and soon had more than 200 fans. Hmmm . . .

Those of us who direct law firm pro bono programs know that we have many different interests to address. Among them are the firm’s interest in not having its good deeds go unnoticed, and our own interest in attracting more diverse and interesting pro bono projects for our attorneys. So how can social media help?

Unlike a website, social media is not a one-way street. It’s interactive and dynamic, and that helps bring attention to what you have to say. Sure, you can post pro bono news on the firm’s website and issue press releases, but neither of those is likely to be forwarded around the web like wildfire. When I want to let the world know about pro bono accomplishments by my attorneys, I often start with a post on our pro bono blog, One Good Turn. When I finish posting on the blog, I hit Twitter and tweet the link to my post. My tweet goes automatically to my Facebook page . . . and we’re off! The firm retweets, our followers retweet (weird having “followers,” isn’t it?), my Facebook friends comment and share with their friends. Each medium builds upon the next, and your post is read and discussed by people you never dreamed of.

A few tips:

1. A blog is flexible. Twitter is limited to 140 characters, and Facebook to 420 (who really reads those notes?). Your blog is your own, allowing you to develop a story. That said, be mindful of your readers’ time and attention span. Link your blog post to bios of attorneys involved, websites of pro bono organizations with whom you partnered, related news stories, and more. Once your blog is launched, keeping it fresh is vital! Post often, lest new readers wander away.

2. Twitter whizzes around the internet quickly through retweets, and lets you fire off quick news updates on the go – “Congrats to Lawyer John Doe of our Center City office on victory in asylum case! #probono” The hashtag (#probono) means your update will be read by people searching for pro bono news whether they follow you or not. Be sure to mention other “Tweeps” who are involved. Include a link to your blog or your firm’s press release about that great victory to get it read more widely. There are an awful lot of blogs out there, and chances are people won’t just stumble across yours.

3. Facebook is great for its higher level of interaction. You probably know more of your Facebook friends personally (or at least feel like you do), so they have a more personal interest in what you have to say. They’re more likely to comment on your post, and share their thoughts about it with their friends. Make it easy by setting your Twitter updates to post automatically to Facebook.

Lisa W. Borden is pro bono shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.*  She also blogs for the firm’s pro bono blog at One Good Turn.

Are you blogging or using social media to strengthen your pro bono program?  Do you have additional tips to add to Lisa’s?  We’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below.   And be sure to follow the Pro Bono Institute on Twitter and Facebook — and tell your friends!

*denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

May 26, 2011

Guest Blog: DLA Piper Associates Work in Guyana

The PBEye recently heard from a team of junior associates at DLA Piper* about their experiences doing pro bono in Guyana.  Pro bono is a terrific way for associates and seasoned attorneys alike to gain skills and develop professionally.  Here’s what our friends at DLA Piper, J. Hess, Nicole C. King, and Terry Smith, had to say:

Attorneys involved with pro bono often share two common perspectives: a belief that we have an ethical obligation to provide pro bono services, and an understanding that pro bono offers unique opportunities to build valuable skills and broaden overall legal acumen.  Junior associates, particularly those working in larger law firms, might find that pro bono work can bring more responsibility and greater exposure than their regular billable work.

In our case, such an opportunity came through an international pro bono project in Guyana, South America. Over the last few years, Guyana has made a strong commitment to strengthening its justice sector under a program called Modernization of the Justice Administration System (MJAS).  Both the Judiciary and the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) have spent considerable time and resources upgrading facilities and personnel.  DLA Piper’s nonprofit affiliate, New Perimeter, recognized Guyana’s strong commitment to fortifying its legal sector and offered the pro bono services of DLA Piper attorneys with expertise directly related to MJAS goals.

To prepare for the project, DLA Piper attorneys made two due diligence trips to Guyana.  During these trips, these attorneys observed court proceedings and interviewed judges, magistrate judges, prosecutors, police prosecutors, and senior investigators.  It became clear that magistrate courts were strapped for resources and severely backlogged.  An attorney or judge from the United States or the U.K. cannot help but immediately fixate on seemingly basic, but temporarily insurmountable obstacles.  Hearings move excruciatingly slowly, because there are no court stenographers and magistrate judges must hand-write testimony.  It is nearly impossible to hear testimony from meek witnesses or arguments from soft-spoken attorneys, because sounds from the street blare through courtroom windows which are necessarily open to provide some relief to the tropical heat.  Witnesses fail to show for hearings, because they live hours away by boat and either did not receive notice or have no means to travel to court.

Despite these obstacles, it was an important moment in the development of this project when we realized that technology—stenographers, air conditioned court rooms, and faster boats—was not a realistic goal.  Once we recognized that the Guyanese Judicial System was not going to become resource-rich over night, we instead sought practical solutions that would organically increase efficiency and capacity.  While momentarily counterintuitive, we realized that the most effective way to support Guyana’s modernization efforts was not to address its weakest aspects, but rather to support its greatest resource, the people already working hard every day to support the rule of law.

The prosecutor's training team (from left to right): DLA Piper lawyers Mark Nadeau (Phoenix), Nicole King (Los Angeles), Mitka Baker (Washington, DC), Rob Sherman (Boston), Carolyn McNiven (San Francisco), Terry Smith (Philadelphia), Peter Zeidenberg (Washington, DC).

It was in this spirit that we developed a two-part project that included drafting “best practices” manuals and implementing simulation-based training workshops for Guyanese magistrate judges and prosecutors.  To implement the project, we spent five days in Guyana with 10 other DLA Piper attorneys from offices across the United States and Europe.  For magistrates, the workshops focused on advanced trial-management skills, new anti-money laundering and asset forfeiture laws, and international best practices in bail setting.  In a separate workshop for more than 40 prosecutors, police prosecutors, and senior investigators, we focused on improving trial advocacy skills like cross-examining witnesses, introducing documents and physical evidence, and establishing chain of custody.

Guyana’s commitment to the program was reaffirmed when courts were closed for Friday’s workshops and magistrates and prosecutors gave up their Saturday to attend training sessions. Highly interactive, energetic, and collegial, the workshops allowed legal professionals working in a heavily burdened system time to step back and reflect on their craft.  Discussions carried over through lunch breaks and into the evenings, and it became clear that curiosity and a love for debate are universal traits for legal professionals.

As junior associates, this project offered a number of unique opportunities.  Foremost, we had an opportunity to play an active role in the project’s design and development. We were actively involved in meetings with the Chancellor of the Judiciary, High Court Judges, the Director and Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, as well as other judicial officials.  While normally junior associates spend time sifting through discovery or performing due diligence from their desks, we were in Guyana driving the scope and direction of an international project that would ultimately involve eight partners, seven associates and well over 2,000 hours of donated time. 

From left to right: Guyana's Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh, Justice Roy, Terry Smith (DLA Piper Associate) and Sheldon Krantz (Director of New Perimeter and a DLA Piper partner)

The project also pushed us as legal professionals.  Developing and facilitating workshops that were engaging and well received has increased our confidence and deepened our understanding of what it means to be credible legal professionals.  Additionally, we worked directly with senior partners, which gave us the opportunity to build valuable relationships within our Firm. 

The old adage “no pain, no gain,” need not apply to pro bono projects.  Junior associates should recognize them as win-win vehicles to do something good for a client as well as for their careers.  For us, collaboration with colleagues during the Guyana project both enhanced our legal skills and advanced the rule of law abroad.

J. Hess, Nicole C. King, and Terry Smith are associates at DLA Piper. Further detail on the Guyana project is available here.

If you would like to contribute a guest blog to The PBEye, please contact Christina Gordon, director of strategic communications and stewardship, with your proposed topic.  We would love to hear from you! 

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