The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Pro Bono Partnerships

January 23, 2015

Upcoming Webinar: An Inside Look at In-House Pro Bono Partnerships

JoinPartnership us on February 3rd at 12:30 p.m. ET for “An Inside Look at In-House Pro Bono Partnerships,” a one-hour program hosted in conjunction with WestLegalEdcenter that will feature an in-depth look at the partnership between American International Group, Inc.’s** Global Legal, Compliance, Regulatory, and Government Affairs department (GLCR), and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) to provide pro bono legal services to Afghan refugees whose lives are in danger due to their work with the U.S. government.

On November 6 at the PBI Annual Dinner in New York City, AIG and IRAP were presented with the 2014 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award for their pioneering, collaborative effort to serve the legal needs of refugees in the Middle East. The effectiveness of the partnership between AIG and IRAP has been proven repeatedly, from a client who successfully obtained a visa and began a new life in the U.S. to contributions to three major policy/legislative victories. The first victory in October 2013 was the extension of the Iraqi SIV program, followed by landmark legislation that made improvements to the SIV application process including giving SIV applicants access to counsel in overseas proceedings and the right to appeal SIV rejections, and finally the addition of 1,000 visas to the Afghan SIV program.

The following panelists will discuss the substance of their work as well as provide insight into the development and maintenance of their strong partnership:

  • Erica Blau, Associate Counsel, American International Group, Inc.
  • Ariele Cohen, Associate General Counsel, American International Group, Inc.
  • Kristen Gudewicz, Associate General Counsel, American International Group, Inc.
  • Becca Heller, Director and Co-founder, IRAP
  • Stephen Poellot, Legal Director, IRAP

CLE credit is available in many states. Interested in-house counsel should contact CPBO Project Assistant Josh Lefebvre for registration information or to submit questions in advance of the program. Registration is free for Law Firm Pro Bono Project Member Law Firms. Law firm participants should contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Eva Richardson for registration information.

Schedule conflict? Don’t worry – the program will also be available on-demand shortly after the original broadcast date.

** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

September 9, 2014

A Mighty Few Seek to Protect Native American Art

Indian Art

Photo Copyright: AFSC

While only a small group, volunteers from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Northwest Justice Project, and Foster Pepper are aiming to have a big impact on a serious problem for Native American and Alaska Native artisans: counterfeiters.

Many Native American and Alaska native artists, whose income relies on creating and selling traditional arts and crafts, are unable to compete with counterfeiters who saturate the market with mass produced knock-offs. Beginning in 2010, the lean team of four attorneys and eight non-lawyers (including the AFSC volunteer committee) has attacked this issue using multiple legal and non-legal avenues by educating Native artisans about their rights, developing methods to identify authentic Native American Art, and using intellectual property and nonprofit law.

A number of years ago, in response to the prevalence of counterfeit products, AFSC formed the Indian Arts and Crafts Volunteer Committee. The Committee seeks to help Native artists threatened by products deceptively marketed as Native-made by informing them about their intellectual property rights. Specifically, Native artists are protected by the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA). The legislation, enacted in 1990 and amended in 2010, aims to prevent counterfeit goods from being falsely advertised and sold as authentic native artwork. Unfortunately, there is not an effective enforceable mechanism against violators, so in practice the law only protects consumers.

In response to the inadequacy of the law, AFSC partnered with lawyers from Foster Pepper and Northwest Justice Project with the aim to create a mechanism for stronger enforcement and an authentication process. The team is forming a nonprofit that will administer licensing and enforcement of a certification mark that will tell consumers which goods are authentically Native-made. Ultimately, this new and innovative approach aims to protect Native artisans from counterfeit producers and provide them with economic stability.

This unique partnership, consisting of only a few attorneys, plays a big role in strengthening the native communities and preserving traditional arts and crafts. The partnership reflects the wide-scope of available pro bono projects and showcases how a few committee volunteers and attorneys can create a lasting impact. The PBEye congratulates this mighty effort!

August 20, 2014

In Western-MA, MassMutual Leads

Headquartered in Springfield, Mass., and having a large satellite office in nearby MASS outlineEnfield, Conn., with a combined legal department composed of 56 attorneys and 80 non-lawyers, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company** (MassMutual) has the distinction of employing more lawyers than any other company or law firm in the greater Springfield area. As a result, when the legal department started to formalize its pro bono efforts in 2007, it did not have the option of working with a larger legal department or large firm with an existing pro bono program. Instead, MassMutual developed its own distinctive pro bono effort. Over the past seven years, MassMutual has become the local pro bono leader, working with each local pro bono community organization, engaging local law firms in its pro bono efforts, and hosting trainings for volunteers both from MassMutual and other organizations.

MassMutual’s first pro bono partnership, formed in 2007, included local law firm Heisler, Feldman, McCormick and Garrow (HFMG). HFMG, which already had a strong commitment to pro bono, helped MassMutual get its initiative off the ground through the Western Division Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program. Collaborating with HFMG, The Women’s Bar Foundation, the Hampden County Bar Association, and Community Legal Aid, numerous MassMutual attorneys, including General Counsel Mark Roellig, volunteer at the weekly clinic on eviction day. In addition to staffing the clinic, MassMutual sponsors ongoing trainings for MassMutual and other volunteers which encourage a minimum of two volunteers to staff the eviction clinic every week. In the last two years, the Housing Court Lawyer for a Day Program served more than 169 clients. Overall, the efforts have engaged more volunteers, reduced the burden on public interest organizations involved with the Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program, and increased the number of clients receiving assistance.

MassMutual has continued its leadership in expanding pro bono legal services through its collaborations with other organizations. For instance, MassMutual partners with the Hampden County Bar Association (HCBA) to sponsor the HCBA Legal Clinic. The HCBA Legal Clinic centrally coordinates pro bono efforts throughout the county, including the existing Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program and Springfield District Court Lawyer for the Day Program. The District Court Lawyer for the Day program is unique in that it allows lawyers to assist consumers out of court. Attorneys problem-solve, guide consumers with court forms, and provide legal advice on civil issues. The types of cases covered in this program are small claims, supplementary process, unemployment appeals, summary process/evictions, and other general civil matters for pro se litigants. Since the program’s creation in May 2012, 575 consumers have been given legal advice and assistance with forms.=
More recently, MassMutual joined with the HCBA Legal Clinic and Community Legal Aid to explore expanding its pro bono efforts to the Probate and Family Court by training volunteers for a program whose volunteers review guardianship petitions and reports for the Court.

In an effort to inculcate aspiring lawyers with a sense of community service, MassMutual also collaborates with Western New England University School of Law to provide pro bono opportunities for law students.

While most of MassMutual’s pro bono work is centered in Massachusetts, MassMutual volunteers also engage in transactional pro bono opportunities through the Pro Bono Partnership (PBP) and assist nonprofits serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in low income neighborhoods in the New York Tri-State area.

HCBA President-elect Christina Turgeon said:

MassMutual has historically played an active role in the Springfield community and over the last six years has helped shape the face of the pro bono services available. Its strategy to partner with the County Bar Association and other local providers of pro bono legal services has allowed for an expansion of existing projects and for the development of new and exciting programs, improving the quality of life for many and helping to secure access to justice regardless of economic status.

The PBEye applauds MassMutual’s in-house pro bono leadership.

 

** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

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

bridge

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

partnership1

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