The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Corporate Pro Bono

August 11, 2022

Ghostwriting Can Increase Pro Bono and Expand Access to Justice

By Kelsey Hunt, PBI Law Clerk    

Ghostwriting is a form of limited scope representation that allows attorneys to draft or assist in drafting a pleading, motion, or other document filed by a pro se party without entering an appearance or engaging in formal representation. Many low- and modest-income parties litigate pro se because they cannot afford the high price of full-scale representation. Ghostwriting increases their access to justice by allowing them to receive some legal assistance and more effectively advocate their position during litigation.

Ghostwriting can also expand pro bono work by providing meaningful opportunities for attorneys seeking to do pro bono. Ghostwriting is accomplished with less time and resources and is an ideal project for busy attorneys to take on. Attorneys can provide limited assistance by drafting a document or helping to complete a form and have a large impact on a pro se litigant. 

Ghostwriting is beneficial to pro se parties who need legal assistance, attorneys who need bite-sized pro bono opportunities, and courts who benefit from well-argued pro se pleadings that follow court rules and efficiently express legal positions. 

Allowing attorneys to provide ghostwriting services without requiring them to disclose their assistance or identity makes it more likely they will provide this service pro bono. Attorneys may fear disclosure will impose broad responsibilities on them, both ethically and procedurally, and they may be uncomfortable identifying themselves on a document when they are not in control of the final product.  

Still there are many who oppose undisclosed ghostwriting, questioning the professional ethics of attorneys who engage in the practice, and contending that it is misleading to courts, which apply a more lenient pleading standard to pro se parties.  

Nevertheless, many jurisdictions favor permitting undisclosed ghostwriting, because they recognize that it is unlikely a ghostwritten document will materially mislead the court or that pro se parties will receive undue benefit. Ghostwritten documents are easy to spot when compared with usual pro se pleadings, so courts will likely recognize them, and an attorney’s name or bar number is not needed to ensure that they do. If the court does not recognize that an attorney assisted the pro se litigant, then the litigant likely gained no benefit from the attorney’s limited service.

Jurisdictions have varying rules on ghostwriting. The American Bar Association (ABA)’s Ethics Opinion on the matter takes a permissive approach and permits ghostwriting without any required form of disclosure. Some jurisdictions follow this approach, acknowledging the benefits that ghostwriting provides pro se parties, while other jurisdictions are more restrictive, requiring full disclosure of the identity of the attorney who provided assistance. Most federal courts that have addressed the issue fall on the more restrictive side. A few jurisdictions fall in between and require anonymous disclosure (indicating that an attorney provided support, but not identifying the attorney) or disclosure of substantial assistance. Some jurisdictions have not addressed the ghostwriting issue and have no guiding policy. The wide variety of ghostwriting rules means that access to this form of legal assistance is unequal across the country. 

To learn more about how ghostwriting increases access to justice for otherwise self-represented litigants, and for a review of the rules and ethics opinions on ghostwriting across all fifty states and the District of Columbia, please see our guide here.

June 29, 2022

Corporate Pro Bono Publishes New Metrics Resource

Metrics pose a perennial challenge for tracking in-house legal departments’ pro bono programs. To assist departments, PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO) recently published the Corporate Pro Bono Metrics Guide as part of its continuing development of effective tools for measurement and assessment of in-house pro bono. 

Capturing metrics can enable a pro bono program to convey the value and importance of pro bono to volunteers, the institutions for which they work, and the individuals and communities being served. Regular and ongoing assessments of in-house pro bono practice provide a way to evaluate and improve the legal services delivered as well as the pro bono program itself. 

Understandably, a robust metrics program may not be the focus of new in-house pro bono efforts—but early insights can help pro bono programs thrive, and initial efforts can be designed for future scalability. CPBO’s guide is intended to aid these departments in addition to more mature in-house programs that may use the guide to supplement their understanding of metrics, data collection, and use of metrics to amplify their pro bono programs. 

The Guide outlines why departments should track metrics; what measurements departments should consider tracking; and how departments can track them.  It outlines the benefits of data-based evaluation on a legal department’s pro bono program and its impact on the community, noting that tracking the right information creates a useful roadmap for future engagement and leverages a legal department’s resources to meet needs efficiently. Data collection is the foundation for an organized, manageable, and well-integrated in-house pro bono program.

What best practices have you seen at your department regarding metrics? Leave a comment to share your experience or reach out to us directly! CPBO is available to provide tailored assistance to in-house legal departments in addressing metrics questions. Please contact us at to schedule a confidential consultation or if you have any questions. 

May 19, 2022

CPBO Organizes GCs and CLOs to Support LSC Funding

by Noor Khan, PBI Intern

For the sixth year in a row, legal department leaders are speaking out to support increased funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States.

Pro Bono Institute® (PBI®) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono® (CPBO®), worked in partnership with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) to invite General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers to sign a letter asking Congress to approve $700 million in funding for LSC for Fiscal Year 2023. 

A notable group of 162 GCs and CLOs signed a letter of support for increased funding for LSC FY2023, which was delivered to Congress on May 17, 2022. Joining in this effort were corporations and legal departments from a vast range of sectors, industries, sizes, and locations. Beyond the GC and CLO signatories, this matter has garnered attention and support from other organizations and news outlets, urging Congress to increase LSC funding. However, the support of the business community is especially critical to demonstrate that access to legal services is necessary to ensure healthy communities, sound institutions, and rule of law.

In a time where 92% of low-income Americans do not receive legal help for their substantive legal issues, often due to a shortage of legal aid lawyers, LSC-funded legal services organizations provide critical civil legal assistance to families across the country. LSC provides resources and financial support to 132 legal aid organizations that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments. Despite the tremendous need for legal services and the inequities in accessing justice, LSC has been routinely underfunded and under-resourced. 

Historically, the support of American corporate leaders has proved to have a positive impact on the allocation of funds for LSC. Between FY2021 and FY2022, LSC saw an increase of $24 million in funding. Congress allocated an additional $50 million in supplementary emergency funding in light of the difficulties raised by Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, this is still not enough. According to the LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap Report, LSC-funded organizations areunable to provide any or enough legal help for 71% of the civil legal problems brought to them; this translates to an estimated 1.4 million problems over the course of a year.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the problem of insufficient legal aid has become more acute, making the continued support of LSC’s efforts more important than ever. Just this past year, one third of low-income Americans suffered from legal issues linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The top reported areas of legal were housing, health care, personal safety, and consumer problems; those most likely to experience a pandemic-related problem were from households with children, single parents, and those struggling with substance abuse. Yet, only 19% of Americans near or below the poverty line sought help for their legal issues, listing cost as one of the top barriers. The pandemic has only made the situation more critical. 

For FY2023, LSC has requested $1.26 billion in funding, which is $245 million more than last year’s request. This increase will enable LSC to achieve two goals: 1) to reduce the justice gap by 75% and 2) to increase their Basic Field Grants by 70% to account for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

CPBO is proud to support this effort to secure funding for LSC and thanks the GCs and CLOs for demonstrating their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services. For more information, please contact CPBO at

May 14, 2019

A Pro Bono Collaboration to Help Innocent Owners Recover Seized Property

In September 2016, United Airlines**, Seyfarth Shaw*, and Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) began a pro bono collaboration to help low-income individuals in Chicago recover vehicles and other property seized by the police during an arrest. This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, originally intended to go after crime lords, drug cartels, and white-collar criminals, was being routinely turned against “workaday homes, cars, cash savings, and other belongings of innocent people who are never charged with a crime” in cities throughout the United States, as explained in a 2013 New Yorker article.

In Chicago, police are authorized to seize property suspected of being used in connection with a crime. To recover seized property, property owners, despite never being charged with a crime, must prove they are innocent in two separate asset forfeiture proceedings: (1) the state proceeding initiated by the Cook County State’s Attorney, and (2) the city proceeding handled by the City Department of Administrative Hearings. The Chicago Police Department seizes and impounds thousands of vehicles every year, and virtually none of the people involved have any form of legal assistance to navigate the labyrinthine proceedings to recover their property. Until recently, there were no pro bono or legal aid programs in Chicago offering free legal help in this area.

The collaboration began when United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw decided to sponsor an Equal Justice Works Fellow to work at CGLA to help innocent owners recover their seized property. Steve Fus, Associate General Counsel at United Airlines, explained that “it was the injustice of it all that was crying out for help” which drew United Airlines’ Legal Department to this project. Allegra Nethery, Pro Bono and Philanthropy Partner at Seyfarth Shaw, described the partnership as addressing “a true unmet legal need” where the clients had no right to counsel, and the private bar was not interested in taking the cases because of their relatively low worth.

Andrew Hemmer, the Equal Justice Works Fellow, trained and mentored volunteer attorneys from United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw who teamed up to represent individuals whose personal property had been seized. Typically, the clients were innocent owners, and their property was seized because it was allegedly used in connection with a crime unbeknownst to them. Volunteer attorneys shadowed Hemmer at court proceedings as part of their training to learn how these hearings were conducted.

During the two-year span of the fellowship project, 117 clients received legal assistance with 26 of those cases led by volunteers from United Airlines and Seyfarth Shaw. The project also developed a comprehensive set of training materials, sample forms, explanatory step-by-step guides to litigating forfeiture cases, and other materials to assist and guide future claimants

In addition, Hemmer and the project, along with many other advocates, played a role in supporting impactful changes to Illinois civil forfeiture law, including increasing transparency in the forfeiture process and shifting the burden of proof from the property owner to the state. The bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law in September 2017.

At United, a large percentage of the legal department participated in trainings for the civil asset forfeiture project, and nine attorneys directly represented clients at civil asset forfeiture trials. Transactional attorneys who had little to no litigation experience were given the opportunity to learn new skills and obtain successful outcomes for their pro bono clients. As Nethery pointed out, “Our very first win was by a corporate associate. You don’t need to be a litigator” to make an impact in delivering pro bono legal services. Fus commented on the value of providing pro bono legal services, “Regardless of what your skills are, it will be beneficial to someone who doesn’t have any [legal training] at all.”

When asked how to replicate this partnership model in other jurisdictions, Nethery advised: “[T]alk to the people involved in the process, find where the cases are being heard, have someone up to date on the process of the law that can train people.”

In October 2018, United Airlines’ Legal Department was presented with the 2018 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award for their innovative project with Seyfarth Shaw and CGLA. Their project is an example of how legal departments can collaborate to address an unmet legal need in the community and make a lasting impact. The partners had the opportunity to discuss the history and impact of the project and share lessons-learned for their successful pro bono partnership during a recent Pro Bono Institute webinar.

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

January 17, 2019

Comcast NBCUniversal Spotlights Pro Bono Engagement At All-Hands Day

There are many people who would like to do pro bono, but then have excuses at the ready for why it’s not the right time or opportunity. Sometimes, even when our hearts are in the right place, we need to change our way of thinking to spur a change in action.

At an attorney all-hands meeting in October 2018, Comcast NBCUniversal** (“Comcast”) tackled head-on the issue of incentivizing pro bono engagement. The pro bono session at the offsite meeting, which assembled approximately 250 attorneys from across Comcast’s global offices, featured a discussion about Comcast’s pro bono program and explored different ways to elevate pro bono engagement.

Public expressions of pro bono support from the executive management is often an effective way to motivate pro bono engagement. At the Comcast meeting, the company’s general counsel, Arthur Block, announced that Comcast had joined the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, pledging to encourage at least half of their legal staff to support and participate in pro bono service. For those on the fence about participating, it helps to know that leadership is on board and values the use of company time for pro bono.

Several leaders in the legal department shared their personal experiences with pro bono work, which included overturning the conviction of a wrongfully accused client and sharing his first night of freedom, and obtaining a green card for a child who fled persecution. This kind of storytelling has the power to shape decision-making by inspiring and illustrating the impact an individual can make through pro bono service.

Comcast also organized a panel discussion to talk about the importance of pro bono for serving communities in need and the barriers to pro bono service. One of the panelists, Syon Bhanot, a behavioral economics professor, shared his research on why people do pro bono and how to get people to do more of it. Bhanot talked about a common impediment to volunteering called “present bias,” in which individuals often feel they are too busy at any given moment to take on a pro bono project. To overcome this bias, Bhanot’s tip is to afford people the opportunity to sign up for a pro bono opportunity far into the future and encourage them to block it off on their calendar. In behavioral economics terms, carving out time for future engagement is a “commitment device” that helps to modify incentives and achieve change in behavior.

Bhanot also addressed the “free-rider temptation.” Some people may think that their participation in pro bono is unnecessary because enough of their colleagues are doing pro bono. To counteract this phenomenon, Bhanot suggests leveraging reputation by playing into the human desire to demonstrate “prosocial” behavior that benefits others. Just as giving out “I voted” stickers can motivate citizens to cast their ballots on Election Day, handing out “I did pro bono” buttons or ribbons can create the prosocial incentive to engage.

Another challenge Bhanot discussed is the problem of “inattention,” which occurs when people do not pay heed to an issue despite its critical importance. The behavioral economics solution is to increase the salience and visibility of the problem so that it cannot be ignored. Bhanot discussed an example of an intervention in a sick population in Kenya. Despite serious illness, the community was not complying with taking their life-saving medications. Researchers devised a mobile phone app that sent text messages to patients reminding them to take their medicines. If the patients did not respond that they had taken their medicine, then the intervention escalated and they received a phone call reminding them of the benefits of taking the medicine. This intervention significantly lowered the rate of medication noncompliance and saved lives.

Translating this example to the pro bono context, Bhanot encouraged companies and law firms to make it harder for volunteers to ignore the need for legal services by shining more light on the lack of legal services for low-income communities. As part of the panel discussion, Eve Runyon, the President and CEO of Pro Bono Institute, discussed the need for pro bono legal services to close the justice gap. Runyon shared some of the findings from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) June 2017 report, including that more than 60 million Americans have family incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty line, and that more than 86% of the civil legal problems reported by these low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help. Moreover, in 2017, low-income Americans approached LSC-funded legal aid organizations with approximately 1.7 million legal problems, more than half of which were turned away due to lack of resources.  Knowing these facts about the scope of the unmet need for legal services increases the likelihood that pro bono volunteers will sign up to help.

One additional way to “nudge” behavior to improve pro bono engagement levels is to help potential volunteers reconnect with their passion. Bhanot discussed how many attorneys went to law school because they wanted to help people, but their day-to-day legal practice may feel removed from this goal. By tapping into and reminding volunteers of the passion that ignited their legal studies long ago, they are more likely to seek out opportunities to help others.  Sharing stories of how pro bono volunteers made a difference in their work is an effective and visceral way to remind people how they can help.

To learn more about how to use behavioral science to encourage pro bono engagement, join us at PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference, where Professor Bhanot will be speaking on motivating pro bono engagement.

To learn more about how all-hands days can have a positive impact on your company’s pro bono program, review CPBO’s recently-released paper on Incorporating Pro Bono Into In-House All-Hands Meetings here or contact CPBO at  For more information about the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, click here.



*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory


December 19, 2018

Transforming Transactional Pro Bono

With its eighth annual Clinic in a Box® program this month, the “dream team” of the Association of Corporate Counsel Northeast Chapter (ACC-Northeast), Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo*, and The Lawyers Clearinghouse, in partnership with Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), have transformed transactional pro bono opportunities for in-house counsel in the Boston Area and made easier some common challenges of engaging corporate lawyers in pro bono.

For many years, the partnership hosted an annual Clinic in a Box® program – Legal Audit, CPBO’s licensed off-the-shelf model designed to provide in-house counsel the opportunity to advise nonprofit organizations or small businesses in five areas of law: governance, employment, intellectual property, real estate, and tax. As part of the clinic, volunteers conduct a “check-up” to assess the legal needs of the nonprofit or small business in each of these areas. The goals of the clinic are to introduce legal departments and ACC chapters to a replicable pro bono delivery model; encourage in-house attorneys to use their transactional legal skills to do pro bono work in their communities; leave in-house counsel with tools they can use to continue to provide pro bono services on their own; and foster closer ties among corporations, law firms, public interest groups, and their communities.  “We’ve been able to host hundreds of in-house counsel over the past several years, many of whom come back every year to help,” said Susan Finegan, Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz Levin.

In 2014, after many years of hosting a Legal Audit clinic, the dream team decided to take its work to the next level.  The co-hosts sought to address a common barrier many companies face in the evolution of transactional pro bono: keeping volunteers engaged, providing opportunities to a variety of volunteers with different skills and interests, and addressing the evolving needs of local nonprofit clients. To solve this challenge, the partnership worked with CPBO to create a new model of the clinic: Clinic in a Box® program – Select Topic, which focuses on a particular subject matter identified by the host organizations that volunteers receive training on and assist nonprofit clients in counseling and drafting a policy related to the topic in the course of the clinic. Past topics have included employment policies, bylaws, social media policies, privacy policies, and anti-harassment and nondiscrimination policies.

Thanks to the pioneering work of ACC-Northeast, Mintz Levin, and The Lawyers Clearinghouse, the Select Topic clinic has allowed in-house volunteers to do meaningful pro bono work by focusing in-depth on specific legal areas relevant to nonprofit organizations or small businesses in their communities. Just as in the Legal Audit model, during the first half of a Select Topic clinic, expert attorneys from a law firm provide training to the volunteers. Armed with the necessary information, volunteers then split into teams to meet with representatives of local nonprofit organizations or small businesses to review checklists regarding the policies, revise existing polices and draft new policies, depending upon the clients’ needs. The Select Topic model has created more opportunities for volunteers and has served a variety of needs of local nonprofits and small businesses.

In the Select Topic clinic held this month, Mintz Levin attorneys trained approximately 40 in-house lawyers and legal department professionals affiliated with ACC-Northeast about anti-harassment and nondiscrimination policies. During the second half of the clinic, volunteers met in small teams with 12 nonprofit clients to review and revise their policies. Clients left the clinic with a policy that they can immediately begin implementing in their organizations, and volunteers left in the holiday spirit, feeling a sense of accomplishment at helping nonprofit clients with much-needed legal services.

CPBO congratulates the dream team on another successful clinic and looks forward to working with them again in the years to come.


To learn more about CPBO’s Clinic in a Box® program, review our website and license options. To request a clinic in 2019, please submit this form. For more about ACC-Northeast’s pro bono program, review the In-House Pro Bono in Practice Profile here.

* denotes Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member

July 31, 2018

Freddie Mac Lawyers Step Up to Represent Immigrants

Although some in-house lawyers gravitate toward discrete, time-limited pro bono opportunities, there are long-term engagements that in-house counsel have engaged in with great success.  Immigration is one area, for instance, in which in-house attorneys have effectively provided longer term pro bono services.   Attorneys at Freddie Mac** have been working on immigration cases as part of their pro bono program for three and a half years. Freddie Mac exemplifies a legal department that has successfully sustained its long-term representation of immigrant detainees.  With the current climate of heightened interest in immigration issues, and the critical need for lawyers to assist detained families, we invited Bob Lawrence, Associate General Counsel at Freddie Mac, to share his legal department’s experience representing more than a dozen detained clients seeking immigration relief.


Since 2014, lawyers and non-lawyers in Freddie Mac’s Legal Division have successfully represented detained immigrants in thirteen removal cases before the U.S. Immigration Court.  These cases were referred to Freddie Mac by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (“CAIR”) Coalition, the only local non-profit that serves the detained immigrant population in the D.C. metropolitan area.  CAIR Coalition made a presentation at Freddie Mac in 2014, which started the relationship.  Among other things, CAIR Coalition familiarizes immigrants with their legal rights and the Immigration Court process, represents indigent immigrants in court, and engages in advocacy work for the cause of detained immigrants.  Each year, CAIR Coalition also provides much-needed legal services to over 500 detained immigrant children in Virginia and Maryland.  To serve so many clients, CAIR partners with pro bono attorneys who take on cases under the guidance of a CAIR mentor.

Freddie Mac volunteers have handled nine cases on their own, proving that in-house legal departments can in fact provide immigrants with pro bono representation in removal cases.  The Freddie Mac teams usually consist of two lead lawyers with two or three support personnel.  In addition, other lawyers and support staff members conduct “spot” assignments, such as tracking down country condition reports or preparing FOIA requests.  An employee fluent in Spanish is also a must for cases involving Spanish-speaking clients.

In all 10 cases that Freddie Mac has seen through trial, the immigration court granted our clients asylum or other relief from removal, which gave these individuals legal status to live and work in the United States.  In two other removal cases, Freddie Mac lawyers convinced the immigration court to dismiss the case on legal grounds before trial and successfully represented an immigrant in a bond hearing.  Currently, we are representing a 15-year-old boy from El Salvador who is seeking a special immigrant juvenile visa, which would allow the boy to reunite with his mother in the U.S.

Freddie Mac’s successful outcomes have helped detained immigrants from several countries attain safety and a path to citizenship in the United States.  For example, in one of our cases, the immigration court granted asylum to a 19-year-old green card holder who had fled Eritrea with his father when he was 13, finding that the Eritrean government would have tortured or killed him because of his father’s prior political activity.  In another case, the court granted asylum to a Honduran taxi driver who had been extorted and kidnapped by gangs for over 16 years before fleeing with his wife and nine-year-old daughter.

We also successfully represented a Ghanian man who suffered from schizophrenia and faced persecution if deported to his home country.  In addition, we worked with a gay man from El Salvador who was granted asylum because gangs would have tortured or killed him on account of his sexual orientation had he been returned to El Salvador.  In this matter, the court granted derivative asylum to our client’s son.

We are proud of our partnership with CAIR Coalition and our work on behalf of detained immigrants.  It is but one of several Freddie Mac pro bono and community service partnerships – others include Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV), Fairfax Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Whitman Walker Health, Tahirih Justice Center, Operation Renewed Hope Foundation (ORHF), Children’s Law Center, and Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) – ensuring that all Freddie Mac attorneys can find a pro bono opportunity that is a good match for their interests and preferred time commitment.

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Special thanks to Bob Lawrence for his contribution to this post.

June 29, 2018

From Clinic in a Box® to Community Center: How GGP Helped the American Indian Center Find a New Home

Little did a team of GGP attorneys know when they were assigned to assist the American Indian Center (AIC) at a Clinic in a Box® program that it would lead to a three-year pro bono relationship spanning a variety of corporate matters and culminating in a complex real estate deal to find a new home for AIC’s community center. Corporate Pro Bono asked the attorneys at GGP to share their remarkable experience in representing a pro bono client on a long-term engagement. Their story demonstrates the profound impact pro bono can have for both the client and volunteers.


AIC was founded in Chicago in 1953 and is one of the nation’s oldest and largest Native American community centers, serving 65,000 American Indians in the Chicago area. A few years after its founding, a member of the AIC community donated an old Masonic temple building located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago to AIC. This building served as the social and cultural hub of the organization for the next 60 years. AIC’s treasured home was a community center bustling with social activities, educational programs and social services, as well as the place where children grew up, made best friends, and even met future spouses.

In July 2014, we participated in our first Clinic in a Box® program in Chicago organized by Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a global partnership project of Pro Bono Institute and the Association of Corporate Counsel. CPBO paired us and our then-colleague, Kristi Hayek, with AIC to conduct a legal audit. During the clinic, we identified several corporate and real estate matters for which AIC needed ongoing legal assistance, including the relocation of its long-standing community center facility. We decided that very day to retain AIC as a pro bono client because we developed an immediate connection with AIC’s representatives, and recognized that the three of us attorneys at the table had the precise expertise to assist the client.   We assisted AIC with updating its by-laws and drafting certain corporate policies in the months immediately following the clinic. However, it was the real estate project that captivated our team for the better part of the next three years and drew in a number of pro bono partners.

By the time AIC participated in the clinic in 2014, its building was in need of significant capital improvements. At that point, there were two floors in the building cordoned off due to asbestos and the boilers failed, leaving the building with no heat during the cold Chicago winters. AIC could not afford the extensive repairs necessary to maintain the building and needed to relocate. Time was of the essence in helping AIC find a new location.

Early on, we brainstormed ideas for facilities that could accommodate AIC’s needs. This included everything from offices, to classrooms, to a large meeting space such as a gymnasium in order to host cultural events, such as pow wows. We anticipated that the new facility would likely require rezoning and enlisted the assistance of GGP’s local zoning and land use attorneys from Foley & Lardner.* Collectively, we tapped into all of our resources to pinpoint possible facility locations, ranging from large vacant retail stores to closed or closing Chicago schools (which resulted in a meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Chicago).  We also reached out to various consultants to identify creative ways to finance the new facility acquisition and renovation in addition to the anticipated proceeds from the sale of AIC’s existing facility. At the same time, we also put out feelers with our commercial broker contacts and both CBRE and Transwestern jumped at the opportunity to represent AIC. After both companies presented to the Board of Directors of AIC, Transwestern was ultimately selected for the project.

With the persistence of the Transwestern brokers, AIC found its new home a few miles away at the Albany Park Community Center.  The Transwestern brokers also lined up a local residential developer to purchase AIC’s existing facility with plans to convert it to apartments.  We aided AIC in closing the sale of AIC’s former facility to the residential developer in the fall of 2016 and negotiated a post-closing possession agreement that permitted AIC to remain in the building for approximately five additional months. During this time, with the assistance of Andrew Scott at Dykema Gossett,* AIC secured a special use permit for the new facility.  We also helped AIC resolve some environmental issues resulting from the discovery of an old heating oil tank, which required closure in place.

In addition, we reached out to Jody Adler, Director of The Community Law Project, to help us find pro bono attorneys with local property tax expertise.  Jody enlisted several tax attorneys at Jenner & Block* to advise AIC with respect to preservation of its property tax exemption at the old facility post-closing and to assist in preparing and filing a petition for a property tax exemption at the new facility.

With GGP’s help, AIC finally closed on the purchase of its new facility on March 20, 2017. That same day, after a symbolic two-mile walk from their former facility in Uptown, the members of AIC opened the doors to their new community center and began to make it their own. Les Begay, AIC’s Board President, recently sent us an update describing the wide array of programs and activities that have taken place in the last year or are currently being offered at the community center:

  • a traveling picture exhibit of 65 years of AIC Pow Wows
  • Junior Olympic archery development
  • Indigenous Science Days, which discuss indigenous contributions and culture in Chicago
  • Robust Indigenous, a program where community members tell AIC stories
  • Project Beacon, a grant from the DOJ for the education and prevention of human trafficking of Native women
  • Writers Workshops, encouraging Native people to tell their stories
  • Northwest Walking Museum, teaching the importance of plants and land uses by Native people
  • Water at Risk, an event held in August 2017, where the Chairmen of the Standing Rock Sioux and Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin discussed water rights and land sovereignty of their Nations at both the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and AIC’s community center facility.

The journey from introduction to AIC at a Clinic in a Box® program through closing the sale and purchase transactions for AIC’s community center was one that we will always remember.  It was truly one of the highlights of our careers and we are so happy to have played a role in helping this wonderful Native American community find its new home.

Special thanks to Marjorie Zessar, Senior Associate General Counsel and Katie Donnelly, Senior Associate General Counsel, at GGP Inc., for their contributions to this post.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member


April 25, 2018

On the Road to MJP Reform

When PBI traveled south earlier this month to the 5th Biennial Virginia Pro Bono Summit, we were reminded of an earlier venture down the highway to attend the Commonwealth’s first Pro Bono Summit in 2010. It was not the first road trip that PBI had undertaken in the name of improving access to justice through multijurisdictional practice (MJP) reform, nor would it be the last. The summit was an inspiring gathering that included a persuasive appeal from Randy Milch, then general counsel at Verizon Communications Inc.**, to the Virginia Supreme Court to change restrictive practice rules that prevented many of Verizon’s in-house counsel from participating in pro bono legal services. Within a year, Virginia amended its rule and adopted what has become model language with regard to non-locally licensed in-house counsel engaging in pro bono.

Over the years, PBI has worked with in-house counsel, like those at Verizon, in more than a dozen jurisdictions to change restrictive practice rules that limit participation in pro bono by in-house counsel. Currently, the practice rules in all but one state permit in-house counsel licensed in other U.S. jurisdictions to represent their in-state employer, often through a registration or similar certification process, but many of these rules limit representation to the employer-client, restricting “registered in-house counsel” participation in pro bono services for those in need.

PBI’s other road trips have included stops in St. Louis, Missouri to present to the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators a letter signed by 339 general counsel asking for rule changes to permit greater participation in pro bono by in-house counsel; Madison, Wisconsin to encourage the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt a proposal to expand in-house engagement; New York, New York to work with a cross-sector of the New York bar, including the New York Court of Appeals, to promote greater engagement by in-house counsel; and Hartford, Connecticut, at the invitation of the Connecticut Access to Justice Commission, to encourage a change to its rules regarding registered in-house pro bono practice. As a result of these efforts, and many others by PBI and other leaders in the legal community, thousands of in-house counsel have been empowered to engage in pro bono legal services. But more ground needs to be covered and more work needs to be done.

Current Status of In-House Pro Bono Rules
Model Jurisdictions (IL, NY, VA, WI)

Currently, there are four jurisdictions that have adopted model language – Illinois, New York, Virginia, and, most recently, Wisconsin. The rules in these states removed unnecessary restrictions and provide, simply, that registered in-house counsel may provide pro bono services and that those services be provided in a manner consistent with the local rules of professional conduct. The benefit of these rules is that they support broad participation among in-house counsel, allowing lawyers to serve the full range of needy clients while holding in-house counsel to the same high standards all lawyers practicing in the state must follow. These lawyers are also subject to the rules of discipline in both the jurisdiction in which they are licensed and the jurisdiction in which they are registered to practice.

The remaining U.S. jurisdictions impose several restrictions that often limit the source of the pro bono engagement to legal services organizations and/or mandate supervision from another lawyer, whether needed or not.

However, requiring authorized in-house counsel to work with approved legal services organizations prevents in-house counsel from fully serving communities in need. Many legal aid organizations limit the types of clients they serve (often excluding nonprofits, micro-entrepreneurs, and community economic development groups), as well as the types of cases they handle. In-house counsel are often uniquely suited to provide assistance to individuals and organizations that legal aid programs do not serve. There are many organizations, including law firms, social service agencies, foundations, and community groups that also offer pro bono opportunities for in-house counsel.

Furthermore, protections already exist that require all attorneys, including non-locally licensed in-house counsel who are authorized to work locally for their employers, to be competent and follow the rules of professional conduct. Restrictive in-house pro bono practice rules do not add more protection, instead they discourage thousands of skilled in-house counsel from providing pro bono. The result of these practice rules is that fewer clients are served and less assistance is provided.

Advocating for changes to these types of barriers has been an important priority for PBI. Corporate Pro Bono, Pro Bono Institute’s partnership project with the Association of Corporate Counsel, works with hundreds of legal departments and ACC chapters across the U.S. interested in contributing to justice for all. From creating and staffing court-based hotlines and resource desks, to representing unaccompanied minors, to advising underfunded nonprofits that provide critical services to communities in need, in-house counsel are on the frontlines of providing pro bono legal services and are playing an ever increasing role in addressing the justice gap.

Here at PBI, we’re willing to put in the miles to help drive this important cause forward. Will you join us on the ride? For more information, contact us at

** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

April 17, 2018

Virginia Is Making Pro Bono Cool!

The Virginia Supreme Court hosted its 5th Biennial Chief Justice’s Pro Bono Summit on April 4 in Richmond, Virginia. Chief Justice Donald Lemons welcomed approximately 100 attendees to the Court to share pro bono initiatives The Commonwealth is spearheading to further develop a culture of pro bono. Pro Bono Institute President and CEO Eve Runyon and Corporate Pro Bono Director Tammy Sun attended the event and were energized by the great efforts organized by all sectors of the Virginia Bar.

The Virginia Supreme Court hosted its first Pro Bono Summit in 2010 with a call to “make pro bono cool.” Since then, Virginia has launched several exciting initiatives, including an Access to Justice Commission, which the Court established in 2013.  This year, the Virginia Bar presented several new projects that are in development.

  • The VBA’s Pro Bono Promise asks private firms and corporate counsel for a written commitment to adhere to their ethical obligations to dedicate two percent of their billable time to pro bono work and to create the internal structures to make this possible. Fifty-three leading law firms and corporate counsel across Virginia have made the promise.
  • JusticeService 2.0 is a cloud-based legal case management system that manages legal aid cases and connects them to volunteer attorneys, law students, and paralegals in a secure portal. Legal service providers can expand their capacity to serve low-income clients by creating a virtual firm of volunteer attorneys. These volunteer attorneys can connect to cases and pertinent resources through their computer or mobile phone.
  • is an initiative designed to build and maintain a 50-state interactive website to provide online pro bono assistance to low-income clients. Users post a request for legal advice on the site and licensed lawyers within the state review the questions and respond. Virginia’s state site launched in August 2016 ( The site is both an accessible resource for Virginia’s low-income clients but also an easy and convenient way for Virginia attorneys to perform pro bono work. As of March 2018, volunteer attorneys in Virginia have answered 94 percent of questions logged on the site, helping Virginia achieve one of the highest attorney response rates in the country.
  • The Triage Project is a management system designed to handle pro bono private sector cases in several non-core Legal Aid areas, thus freeing up Legal Aid to concentrate its limited resources on core specialties.

As a result of the tremendous contributions of many in Virginia devoted to access to justice and pro bono legal services, great work is being done to further justice for all.  Congratulations, Virginia for continuing to make pro bono cool.

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