Merck General Counsel Bruce Kuhlik and the company’s legal department received the 2013 Laurie D. Zelon Award at the 2013 PBI Annual Conference reception on March 15. See Mr. Kuhlik’s remarks below.
Thank you, David, for that kind introduction. I am grateful for your friendship, for your work on behalf of Merck, and for everything that you have done in both private practice and public service to further the cause of justice.
Thank you also to Esther and to PBI for this award, and congratulations to the other honorees this evening. I am deeply honored to accept the Zelon Award on behalf of Merck’s Office of General Counsel.
I am, of course, going to talk about pro bono, but I want to start with justice. John Rawls called justice “the first virtue of social institutions.” As a matter of fairness, Rawls reasoned, a just society must establish institutions that ameliorate the deep and pervasive inequalities in income, education, health and other goods that arise from unequal and undeserved starting places in life.
Judged by Rawls’s standards, we are not a just society. Our legal institutions are perhaps the most important avenue for making progress toward that goal, and equality before the law is one of our most treasured ideals. Yet it remains only an aspiration until everyone enjoys the same access to legal services and representation that corporations and individuals of means can secure.
And that, of course, is where pro bono comes in. The need for pro bono services is greater than ever. The public sees this most clearly in times of crisis and natural disaster, but the reality is that, for the growing number of poor and disadvantaged in America, every day is a day of crisis and of need for legal services that they cannot afford. As a practical matter, pro bono must fill as much of that gap as we possibly can.
I am proud of Merck’s commitment to pro bono work. It is rooted both in the professionalism, passion and dedication to others of the men and women in our legal department and in our broader corporate culture of service and of making a positive difference in the world. Under my predecessors Mary McDonald and Ken Frazier, Merck established one of the oldest and most successful corporate pro bono programs in the nation. We were one of the first legal departments to sign onto the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge, and we have sought to continue and strengthen our pro bono commitment for almost twenty years.
My pride in our work, however, is tempered by reality. And the reality is that, despite all of our best efforts — and by all, I mean the enormous collective commitment to pro bono services represented by all of you here this evening as well as the profession as a whole — despite all of our efforts, unmet needs for legal services stubbornly persist and in fact continue to grow.
We must do better. This is not just a matter of devoting more hours to pro bono, but of making those hours, and our programs as a whole, more effective. And that is where the Pro Bono Institute and Corporate Pro Bono come in. I would like to identify several ways in which we at Merck are working with PBI and CPBO to enhance our program.
For example, we are broadening our focus to include signature projects and strategic work, and not only individual matters. We are partnering with law firms to take on larger and more leveraged projects. We also are expanding our efforts internationally through new partnership models. And we are integrating the legal department’s pro bono work with Merck’s broader corporate social responsibility program.
Critically, we also are working with PBI on a metrics project to establish a framework for measuring not just inputs into pro bono — such as hours worked — but also outputs in terms of the social and economic value created by our pro bono efforts as well as the benefits of pro bono to the legal department and the company. I have no problem making the case for pro bono at Merck. But as we advocate in the public arena for more resources to be devoted to legal services and for structural changes to improve access, we must have compelling data to back up our arguments.
And this brings me back to justice. The personal decision all of you have made to devote your time and talents to pro bono cannot be captured in any metric. There are many familiar reasons to participate in pro bono work: it helps develop legal skills, it strengthens law firm and corporate legal department cultures, it provides opportunities for firms to differentiate themselves and to partner more closely with corporate clients, and so on. All true. But fundamentally, pro bono work is necessary to make access to the legal system, and our ideals of equal justice, a reality. Why do pro bono? Because it is the right thing to do.