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2013 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award

merck logoBruce Kuhlik and Merck & Co., Inc. The Pro Bono Institute’s annual LAURIE D. ZELON AWARD honors Judge Zelon’s pro bono leadership and her singular contributions to enhancing justice for all.  The 2013 Zelon award is given to BRUCE KUHLIK and the LEGAL DEPARTMENT OF MERCK & CO., INC., a global healthcare leader, in recognition of their outstanding commitment to community and pro bono services.

Thanks in part to a company-wide culture that supports employee volunteer efforts that improve their communities and enhance their neighbor’s well-being, Merck’s pro bono program has flourished since it began in 1994 under then-Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mary McDonald. Today, the program includes more than 175 attorneys, paralegals and administrative associates from Merck’s Office of General Counsel and has operations around the world, benefiting individuals and nonprofit organizations alike.

The program is designed to help those without access to legal assistance obtain equal justice under the law and focuses on areas such as guardianship/family law, landlord/tenant law, bankruptcy, domestic violence, and immigration law. It operates primarily in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as internationally.

Merck has adopted several signature projects that integrate its pro bono and corporate social responsibility efforts. Current projects include assisting low-income Holocaust survivors applying for reparations, pensions, and other benefits from the German government; offering a “Bankruptcy in a Box” program to help low-income consumer debtors file for bankruptcy; and providing life-stabilizing legal services to displaced or transitional veterans.

Additionally, Merck’s pro bono program includes some global projects. In 2009, Merck partnered with Accenture plc, Caterpillar Inc., Baker & McKenzie, and PILnet to empower women in the workplace in Nepal by striving to reduce socioeconomic and sexual exploitation of women. In doing so, the partnerships utilized an unprecedented and novel inter-company and cross border approach, uniting nearly 70 lawyers in 11 countries. For their efforts to meaningfully impact the global community, PBI and Corporate Pro Bono awarded Merck and its partners the Corporate Pro Bono Partner Award in 2010.

Last year, Merck’s pro bono program partnered with the mHealth Alliance, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Baker & McKenzie to develop case studies in Bangladesh, Chile, India, Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania, and Uganda to better understand the current privacy and security policy landscape and identify gaps that must be addressed to protect health data transmitted over mobile devices. The partners will research and analyze the status of policies, laws and standards that address mHealth-related privacy and security issues, with the results expected to be released this year.

Outside of the courtroom, the pro bono program also manages a community service project, the “Street Law” initiative, which brings Merck volunteers into the classroom to promote careers in the legal profession to inner-city high school students who may not regularly be exposed to it. Employees visit the schools and provide an introduction to career opportunities in the legal profession and the principles of intellectual property law, contracts, and arbitration, as well present workshops where the students actually play the roles of judges, attorneys, and witnesses in mini-trials. In addition, Merck gives 15 $500 scholarships per year to those students who have proven to be the top students in their Street Law elective class.

Working with PBI and pro bono consultants at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, Merck also has developed a pioneering measurement framework to better assess the impact and effectiveness of its pro bono efforts. Kuhlik and his department are testing and implementing unique metrics tools to improve their understanding of the benefits their program offers their clients, pro bono partners, and Merck’s attorney and legal staff volunteers—tools that will be made available to other legal departments and law firms to revolutionize and enhance pro bono efforts.

Merck’s long-term success relies on strong support from the top, from former general counsel and current President and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Frazier, to Kuhlik, who leads the department by example and regularly volunteers alongside other members of the legal department.

PBI congratulates Kuhlik and the legal department at Merck for their unwavering commitment to pro bono and leadership in service.