The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Pro Bono Partnerships

July 16, 2014

Television and Pro Bono: An Innovative Approach

How does one of the world’s premier entertainment brands engage its lawyers in pro bono?  It does what comes naturally and combines the medium of television with the unique skills of its legal department and production staff to make a difference to those in need around the globe.

viacom image

© MTV Staying Alive Foundation

In 2006, Kenya adopted the Sexual Offences Act, designed to combat gender-based violence. For several years after its passage, implementation of the law proved difficult as the new rights and obligations were not well-understood.  To increase public awareness of gender-based violence and the implications of the new law, the legal department of Viacom International Media Networks, a division of Viacom Inc.**, worked with the producers of its television program Shuga: Love, Sex, Money to incorporate important legal information into the storyline and leverage the program to educate the Kenyan community and viewers around the world.

The television show, which is shown on stations worldwide, is produced by MTV Networks Africa, The MTV Staying Alive Foundation and several other partners, and is part of a large multimedia campaign with a goal of achieving a generation free of HIV.  During the show’s pre-production phase, Viacom worked with Shearman & Sterling* and Lawyers Without Borders to research and analyze Kenyan case law so that they could then consult with the production team to structure a plotline regarding rape and draft materials for a public legal education campaign.  The Shuga pro bono team included lawyers from offices throughout Europe and the U.S., who collaborated across borders with each other and with NGOs in Kenya to develop legal messaging that would be relevant and accessible to the Kenyan public.

The public education materials produced by the team were designed using the characters and storyline from the television program and aimed to increase public understanding of gender violence and raise awareness of the Sexual Offences Act.  By identifying core messages for public education and drafting a resources section on sexual assault, content teams were able to effectively design a graphic novel and other non-traditional educational media using Shuga characters. The materials supplemented the television show so individuals unfamiliar with the program or without television could still access the information.  In addition, a “toolkit” that includes additional resources is available to Shuga partners, who work in and around Kenya.  The materials were made available online, marketed through the radio, referenced by lawyers and judges conducting trainings, and publicized through a Kenyan national newspaper, which ran the graphic novel as a serial.

This unique and innovative project dramatically expanded the impact of the pro bono work by partnering pro bono legal services with television and print media to spread legal education to an entire population.  It is an excellent example of how a legal department is able to contribute its unique legal skills to the community service efforts of the company as a whole, as well as the company’s products and services, and make a tremendous difference in the communities in which they operate.

Viacom Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary Michael D. Fricklas spoke about the pro bono efforts for Shuga and the potential impact of in-house pro bono at a recent meeting of in-house pro bono leaders in New York.  Fricklas notes,

I couldn’t be more proud of the work our lawyers have done on the Shuga project. They have been working on the scripts, editing story lines and reaching millions of people. Given Viacom’s global footprint, international pro bono is a big piece of our overall pro bono efforts. This project was also particularly interesting because it allowed us to collaborate with, and leverage the expertise of, colleagues around the world. As a media company, we have to figure out what the right opportunities are and we are lucky we had this opportunity to do something that is a little different. Lawyers within every industry can find special projects that reflect their particular strengths.

The PBEye can’t wait to hear more about this team’s upcoming project in Nigeria, which focuses on domestic violence and gender violence.


* denotes Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

June 10, 2014

Sikorsky Committed to Helping Veterans

veteransThe PBEye is proud to highlight one legal department’s efforts to assist veterans on a pro bono basis.

The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC), a nonprofit that helps veterans overcome legal barriers, was just four-months old with only one full-time staff member when it was approached by the Sikorsky Aircraft, Corp. In the years since, Sikorsky’s legal department has built a pro bono project that dedicates staff and resources to achieve a number of positive outcomes for veterans in Connecticut.

Sikorsky, while small in staff, has worked with CVLC to provide pro bono representation in more than 20 cases to a number of veterans in need by assisting them in avoiding homelessness, managing debt repayment, and discharge upgrades. In one instance, Sikorsky represented a young female veteran of the war in Iraq who had stopped paying rent because her landlord refused to fix a serious problem. The team assisted the client in avoiding immediate eviction and back rent payments, while reporting the landlord to the health department.

To help sustain its efforts, Sikorsky has put in place a number of measures that support the administration of their project and meet the needs of clients. Sikorsky has developed a case management system and has assigned an internal pro bono manager to oversee its pro bono efforts with CVLC. Sikorsky also routinely arranges travel for its volunteers to CVLC for in-person client meetings, which makes a world of difference for veterans with limited transportation and cell phone minutes.

The project’s success exhibits the benefit of a legal department applying itself to a signature pro bono effort. Sikorsky’s admirable support of America’s veterans through full representation of CVLC clients is a shining example of how companies can serve those who serve our country. We look forward to hearing more success stories from this project and congratulate its commitment to helping veterans.

To learn more about efforts to assist veterans, listen to our webinar Pro Bono in Practice: Veterans or contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.

February 11, 2014

New Legislation Brings New Opportunity

As Target Corporation**, Lindquist & Vennum*, and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) demonstrate, with new legislation comes new opportunities to serve those in desperate need of legal assistance.

In June 2012, the Obama Administration issued a directive implemented by the Department of Homeland Security which provides eligible immigrants the opportunity to defer deportation action and seek work authorization through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  In Minnesota, a team of lawyers from Target, Lindquist, and ILCM, worked together to develop a pro bono project to help these young immigrants realize their rights under this new directive.

According to the ILCM, there are as many as 9,000 immigrants in Minnesota that may qualify for assistance under the DACA program, and the process to obtain a determination to defer removal is multi-stepped.  The assistance of counsel can make all the difference for a young applicant.

Within six months of the issuance of the directive, the partners developed a project to respond to the need.  The partners focused on building a project that had a strong foundation to ensure its longevity and maximize its response.  Each organization assumed defined and necessary roles.  ILCM conducts client intake and provides training and ongoing support to the volunteers while Target and Lindquist provide volunteers to assist the clients.  In addition, Lindquist contributes administrative support to the project and Target provides volunteers for translations, when needed.

Paralegals and translators prove vital assistance to the project.  After undergoing training, the paralegals interview applicants together.  Paralegals then review materials, sort data, and assemble the DACA applications with supervision from attorneys.  Target’s Hispanic Business Council and multilingual attorneys act as interpreters at some client interviews and translate documents when necessary.  Overall, attorneys and non-attorneys typically spend 15-20 hours on each DACA case.

In just the first year, the team has been highly successful, taking on 5-10 percent of the DACA cases that ILCM refers to pro bono attorneys.  Moreover, it has become a popular project at both Target and Lindquist.  At Target, approximately 10 percent of in-house counsel, 20 percent of paralegals, and additional multi-lingual employees participate.

This combined effort is not only remarkable for its responsiveness to a new opportunity, but it also aims to last and expand over time in order to assist the increasing number of people who will need pro bono aid with immigration matters.  With anticipated new state and federal immigration legislation, millions more may need assistance.

We look forward to hearing more from this partnership and its efforts to provide pro bono services to meet the needs of those in its community.

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

December 17, 2013

Bridging Distance to Serve Pro Se Litigants and the Courts


When the Colorado Supreme Court’s Commission on the Legal Profession asked CenturyLink, Inc. and Bryan Cave*† in August 2012 to provide pro bono assistance to pro se clients in the Seventeenth Judicial District, they eagerly jumped to the challenge. Together, CenturyLink and Bryan Cave developed and now staff the Adam’s County Self Help Resource Center Support Initiative, an innovative pro bono effort that overcomes the issue of connecting pro se litigants that are located far from volunteers. The result has helped not only thousands of individual pro se litigants in a few months, but the entire local court system.

The Seventeenth Judicial District faced a growing number of unrepresented parties in judicial proceedings. In 2007, the District established a walk-in Self-Help Resource Center, but services were limited due to restrictions on court staff personnel providing legal advice to court litigants. Help from the private bar was needed but difficult to come by as it was so far from the nearest law firms and legal departments.

Once CenturyLink and Bryan Cave were on board, they and the Adams County Justice Center spent significant time addressing challenges and developing solutions. In addition to overcoming distance, the partnership considered approaches to effectively coordinate volunteers and staff, manage cases, engage sufficient volunteers, and provide training. Together, they tailored a program to utilize old and new technology to the benefit of all parties involved and provide a sustainable structure.

Now, in addition to clients walking into the Self-Help Resource Center, where they meet with court personnel who conduct intake, court personnel direct appropriate clients to utilize a hotline that is forwarded to either CenturyLink or Bryan Cave volunteers, depending on who is scheduled at that time. The pro bono volunteers then provide assistance from their desks in downtown Denver where they have access to the resources they use every day plus online training materials created especially for the Initiative. Volunteers sign up for two-hour slots via an online calendar, eliminating the need for a scheduling coordinator. As a result, 10 CenturyLink lawyers, 20 Bryan Cave lawyers, and a number of professional staff support the program six hours daily.

To make sure volunteers have the skills necessary to answer incoming calls, the Initiative limits the kinds of questions it addresses by the pro bono volunteers to family law matters and landlord-tenant issues – the two major types of needs raised by pro se litigants at the Center. It also provides in-depth training in these topic areas to the volunteers from experienced pro bono providers, including resources such as checklists, and flow charts that the volunteers use to provide assistance to the pro se litigants.

The Adams County Self Help Resource Center helps those who cannot afford legal representation by connecting volunteers and clients at a distance. It also makes the Seventeenth Judicial District run more smoothly and effectively for which the Colorado Supreme Court has expressed its gratitude. As volunteers continue to address geographic challenges to service and the judiciary becomes an increasingly prominent player in the fight for access to justice, The PBEye hopes to hear about more projects of this sort.

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

December 3, 2013

A Social Network Committed to Social Responsibility

MedicalTo help address the growing need for legal assistance for low-income individuals about the complex bureaucracy surrounding government health insurance programs, Fenwick & West*† and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County launched a new project in October 2010 aimed at increasing access to affordable health care. Working together, the partnership organized clinics to advise low-income seniors and disabled adults on how to qualify for affordable healthcare coverage. These “Share of Cost” clinics serve individuals and families in San Mateo County, Calif., whose income is slightly above the Federal Poverty Level but is insufficient to meet the expense of the medical care they need.

In California, which has the largest number of medically uninsured individuals, the likelihood of being uninsured is greater than the overall U.S. percentage at all income levels, according to the California HealthCare Foundation’s 2011 report. This includes a large percentage of low-income, employed Californians who are uninsured due to the cost of insurance relative to their incomes, lack of public subsidies, and complex rules and process for determining eligibility.

The partners expanded their efforts to assist these communities in April 2012 by including the legal department of Facebook, Inc. At each clinic, held monthly, teams of attorneys meet with 12 to 15 clients. The volunteers educate clients about the various options available for affordable healthcare. In addition, the teams assist interested clients in taking the steps necessary to navigate those programs. Since 2010, Facebook and Fenwick & West have donated 545 hours and assisted 238 clients through the clinics.

To ensure the success of the project and support the efforts of the volunteers, the partnership adopted several strategies, one of which includes offering trainings prior to each monthly clinic. Recognizing the complexity of the Medicare and Medicaid administrative systems, the training programs provide guidance for new attorney participants and refresher information to all volunteers. Generally, the volunteers find the trainings and refreshers beneficial when meeting with clients and helping the clients pursue their options. Fenwick & West and Facebook attorneys also have found assisting seniors who are unable to access assistance through federally funded legal service programs tremendously rewarding.

The partnership staffs the “Share of Cost” clinics on a monthly basis and plans to continue into the future while uninsured residents adjust to the changing healthcare laws.

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

September 17, 2013

Legal Departments, Law Firms, and Pro Bono


In January 2012, PBI President and CEO Esther Lardent wrote about pro bono partnerships between law firms and legal departments and the many benefits they can produce.  According to CPBO’s 2012 Benchmarking Survey, pro bono partnerships are on the rise: 86 percent of responding legal departments partnered with law firms on pro bono in 2012, up from 68 percent in 2010.  And nearly a quarter of responding legal departments partner with firms with whom they do not already have a business relationship.

This is not the only trend. CPBO’s 2012 Benchmarking Survey also found that a law firm’s pro bono efforts are increasingly important to legal departments in their selection and evaluation of their business relationship with firms.  More than a third of responding legal departments consider pro bono performance when evaluating outside counsel and 30 percent expressly inquire about pro bono in requests for proposals (RFPs), beauty contests, or retention processes.
partnership3You can read more about partnerships between legal departments and law firms when CPBO publically releases the 2012 Benchmarking Survey later this fall.  Until then, check out The PBEye for regular highlights as well as a variety of other pro bono partnership blogs. You may also review the 2010 Benchmarking Survey to learn more about trends in in-house pro bono.

For information, contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.

April 23, 2013

Pro Bono Assistance for Young Immigrants

When President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June 2012, undocumented immigrants were given the opportunity to step out of the shadows and finally pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and teachers in the U.S. The program gives a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants who meet a variety of eligibility requirements, including those who came to the U.S. before age 16 and are in school, high school graduates, or military veterans. Potential participants also need to be under the age of 31 and have lived in the U.S. for five years. An estimated 1.7 million people are eligible for the program and as of January 154,404 have been granted deferred action.

The large demand for legal advice for those seeking a reprieve has led lawyers around the country to gather and provide pro bono assistance to the qualifying immigrants. In Illinois, the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) holds weekly clinics to meet the needs of the estimated 75,000 youth between the ages of 16 to 30 in Illinois eligible for the DACA program. Attorneys from Exelon Corporation** partnered with Dentons*† (formerly SNR Denton) to help staff these clinics. The legal department at United Airlines and the Chicago chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel also volunteer at these clinics. They work directly with clients to fill out the 20-page application for deferred action and help them find document evidence to prove their eligibility.

Volunteer lawyers from Latham & Watkins LLP*† have focused their efforts on meeting with young undocumented immigrants in San Diego and determining their eligibility for the DACA program. These meetings have been invaluable for Latham lawyers, as they have underscored the importance of equal access to justice to all members of society, including those living in the shadows.

Law students have also recognized the necessity of providing quality pro bono legal services to young, undocumented immigrants. Professors and students at the University of Texas School of Law created a partnership between the Law School’s Pro Bono Program and the Immigration Clinic in order to hold legal clinics for undocumented immigrants. The clinics, held in the Austin area, assist qualifying attendees in completing and filing applications for the program. The astounding success of these clinics has led the law school to partner with organizations in the Rio Grande Valley to serve young immigrants in the border region.

While immigration law is a new venture for many attorneys, they have quickly risen to the occasion and are well aware of what is at stake for many of the young men and women they are helping. As Ben Weinberg, pro bono partner at Dentons who volunteers with NIJC, stated:  “These are people who are underground, coming out and saying we feel so strongly about working and being productive members of society that we’re going to shine a light on ourselves to the federal government that has the power to send them far away.”

Immigration will continue to be a hot button issue as Congress works to find a cohesive solution to assist all undocumented immigrants. To learn about immigration-related pro bono opportunities and developments, contact Tammy Taylor or Eve Runyon.

* 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

May 2, 2012

Dell & GDHM Partnership Helps Small Businesses

Like many legal departments undertaking pro bono work, the pro bono committee at Dell Inc.** recognized the importance of providing transactional pro bono projects for its attorneys.  In 2009, with the assistance of Texas C-BAR, Dell established a partnership with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody (GDHM)* to provide pro bono legal assistance to small businesses.  The program provides an opportunity for Dell attorneys to use their skills to benefit small businesses in the community.

Members of the Dell legal department (Dell Legal) and GDHM co-teach a monthly class to clients of BiGAUSTIN, an organization that provides SBA-approved microloans to local small businesses.  The class covers a range of topics such as choice of entity, taxation, and intellectual property.  Teaching responsibilities are shared equally by attorneys from Dell Legal and GDHM—generally, each class is taught by one member of Dell Legal and one member of GDHM.

The class has been offered nearly every month for the last three years, with an average class size of 25 small business owners.  Dell and GDHC estimate that they have served nearly 1,000 clients since the program’s inception.  Dell and GDHM recently created a website where attendees can access training materials, including links to websites with information helpful to small business owners.

* 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

November 11, 2011

GE, Arnold & Porter, CLC Partner for Kids

In the summer of 2010, representatives from General Electric Company** and Arnold & Porter LLP*combined forces to help address some of the issues facing at-risk youth in the Washington, D.C. area.  The team met with the Children’s Law Center (CLC), an organization that provides free legal counsel to low-income children in the D.C. area, to formulate a plan.  After meeting with CLC, the organizations decided to focus their efforts on increasing access to special education resources.

Washington, D.C. has an exceptionally high prevalence of disability among children, with more than 12,000 children who have disabilities requiring special education accommodations.  Many schools and health clinics often fail to provide special education services, and, more often than not, low-income families do not have the abilities to seek legal representation in order to obtain resources for their children — so the work of the GE/Arnold & Porter partnership is particularly important in the D.C. area.

In developing the special education representation efforts, the partnership set about ensuring the sustainability of its model.  Lawyers new to pro bono or special education law watch a videotaped training session in order to orient themselves with special education representation and the community.  Each case is assigned one General Electric attorney and one Arnold & Porter attorney, ensuring attorney availability for urgent needs.  In addition, each case is monitored by a CLC staff member who may also provide training on an as-needed basis and answer questions as they arise.

Evelyn Becker, CLC’s pro bono director, said of the partnership, “We are grateful to General Electric and Arnold & Porter for helping to forge this new avenue of representation in the District in order to offer more comprehensive services for our clients.  Without their enthusiasm or dedication, this would not have been possible.”

Are you involved in an interesting partnership? We’d love to hear more about it!

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

October 25, 2011

Ford, Dykema , and CLR Team Up

In 2008, Ford Motor Company**, Dykema Gossett PLLC*, and Community Legal Resources (CLR) conceived of a program to provide legal support to Michigan nonprofit organizations.  In the wake of the recession, the nonprofits faced significant financial hardship and found it increasingly difficult to serve their clients.  Michigan was one of the states hit hardest by the economic downturn, rendering the services provided by nonprofit organizations all the more important.  Witnessing the vulnerability of nonprofits in the state, Ford, Dykema, and CLR developed a program called the Nonprofit Survival Clinic to help implement legal strategies to improve their financial wellbeing.

In preparation for the Nonprofit Survival Clinic, the partnership created a legal questionnaire to identify nonprofit concerns before the clients’ appointments with an attorney.  The questionnaire helps streamline the counseling process and ensures that clients get the most value out of their time with an attorney.

Each clinic begins with a training session for the Ford lawyers led by Dykema and CLR lawyers with expertise in nonprofit law, followed by a 90-minute one-on-one consultation between nonprofit representatives and volunteer attorneys.  During the consultation, Ford attorneys evaluate nonprofit financial vulnerabilities as well as labor and real estate issues while Dykema attorneys provide backup as necessary and are available to answer questions from Ford attorneys.  The Ford attorneys then provide the nonprofit client with a written report highlighting potential legal problems and solutions.

In addition to addressing existing legal issues, Ford attorneys counsel nonprofits on legal problems that may arise in the future.  This proactive approach saves time and money by preventing future legal problems, which enables the nonprofits to use their valuable resources to more effectively serve their communities.  Indeed, the clinics have allowed several nonprofits to avoid going out of business.

Since the inaugural Nonprofit Survival Clinic in 2009, more than 40 nonprofits have participated in eight clinics. Nearly 40 percent of Ford’s attorneys have provided assistance, with several attorneys providing representation on an ongoing basis.

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