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2014 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award

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Brad Smith and the Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft Corporation

The Pro Bono Institute’s annual Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award honors Judge Zelon’s pro bono leadership and her singular contributions to enhancing justice for all. The 2014 Zelon Award is given to Brad Smith and the Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft Corporation, a worldwide leader in software, services, and solutions, in recognition of their outstanding commitment to pro bono legal services.

Microsoft’s Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs is a diverse and multidisciplinary team of approximately 1,100 legal, business, and corporate affairs professionals operating in 55 countries worldwide. Being a part of a company committed to creating solutions to meet the needs of the communities in which it works, members of the legal department have actively engaged in pro bono for many years. Their efforts were formalized when Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith led the charge to streamline the department’s pro bono engagement.

Ten years ago, Microsoft joined forces with the ABA Commission on Immigration to launch Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice (VAIJ) in Seattle. Over the past decade, hundreds of Microsoft attorneys, paralegals, administrators, and other volunteers have provided pro bono representation to thousands of unaccompanied children, adult immigrants, and refugees facing deportation and immigration proceedings. Through VAIJ, Microsoft has helped hundreds of immigrants attain lawful immigration status and security from abuse and persecution.

In 2008, Microsoft built upon the success, infrastructure, and expertise derived from VAIJ, and co-founded another nonprofit organization, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). KIND provides pro bono legal representation for unaccompanied children facing immigration proceedings in the U.S. where the need is greatest. KIND works at the micro-level on individual cases through volunteers from law firms, corporate legal departments, and law schools, and at the macro-level by advocating for policy changes to improve the lot of unaccompanied children.

In just five years, KIND has recruited nearly 6,000 volunteers from more than 170 law firm, corporate, and law school partners in each city and has served more than 5,000 children. In addition, it has advocated for critical changes in U.S. law, policy, and practice to improve the treatment and protection of unaccompanied children. In October 2013, VAIJ and KIND formally merged, with VAIJ folding its operations into KIND.

In addition to the work the department has done in support of streamlining and expanding services to undocumented immigrant youth, volunteers from Microsoft have worked on a number of direct service pro bono matters in the U.S. and abroad, which include providing transaction legal advice to social entrepreneurs and drafting disaster relief provisions for global relief organizations.

Under Smith’s leadership, Microsoft’s Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs has advanced legal assistance initiatives within its department and within the larger legal community to support the needs of the underserved. Smith also serves as Microsoft’s senior executive responsible for the company’s corporate citizenship and philanthropic work, which includes a new companywide commitment to create empowerment opportunities for 300 million youth around the world during the next three years.