Remarks from Brad Smith

Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith and Microsoft’s Department of Legal and Corporate affairs received the 2014 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award at the 2014 PBI Annual Conference Reception. See Smith’s remarks below.

Well, thank you. I first want to say that on an evening when one follows [PBI President & CEO] Esther Lardent, [U.S. Supreme Court Associate] Justice Ginsburg, and [Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) President] Wendy Young, the first goal I have now achieved—I did not drop or break the crystal [award]. So I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I want to say thank you on behalf of all of my colleagues from Microsoft and our Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs, many of whom are here today—many of whom have had the opportunity or some of whom who’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with several of you and, frankly, learn so much about what is going on and where we can do more and better in the pro bono area.

I was particularly enthused about being here and accepting this award in part because of the importance of the Pro Bono Institute. I know it’s an institution that is familiar and actually beloved by so many of us, but it’s nonetheless a moment that’s worth reflecting upon. It’s terrific to have Esther here and in improving health. As we know, it is an organization that for 18 years has been showing the way for stronger pro bono work in this country and more recently around the world. And if there’s one thing above all else that I’ve loved so much about our connection to PBI, it’s that it is not only set and inspired us to pursue a clear goal doing more and better pro bono work, but I think it has uniquely brought its expertise to bear to help us learn how to do that work better. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a law firm or a legal department. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a large group of lawyers or a group of one or two. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been doing this for decades or just a week, PBI continues I think to do such a wonderful job of not only helping us learn from what it has learned, but helping us learn from each other. And that’s truly invaluable.

Second, I think it’s just such a wonderful opportunity to come together at an event like this because the pro bono cause itself is so important. You heard before that we at Microsoft have lawyers in 55 countries, and that’s a wonderful thing. One of the great things about my job is everyday to experience what’s going on in courtrooms around the world. I think as we in this room appreciate, the doors of the courthouses of America are literally open to everyone. But as we’ve also learned, your prospects for success are so much brighter if you can walk through those doors together with a lawyer. And of course we’ve come to appreciate just how great the gap really is between the demand for legal services in our country and the available supply. And so each year it has in fact become more important for us to do more pro bono work to try to fill that gap. And along the way, and I think especially with the help and leadership of the Pro Bono Institute, we have helped in this country to build something that is special but not appreciated by the American public. When we are at our best, we are a generous profession. We give of our time, and we give it to people who need it, and that is something that we should cherish. That is something that we should share more broadly with the American public, and more than anything else, it is something that we need to continue to build upon and grow.

And that really brings me to the final reason I’m excited to be here tonight. It’s because of the people in this room. So many of you are the pillars of the pro bono community in this country, and so many of you are the guiding light for what can spread to other parts of the globe as well. And so many of you are the future of pro bono work. This has been a fun week for me because just the day before yesterday I had the opportunity to be with Wendy Young to talk about how KIND had spread to 200 law firms and legal departments and law schools, but [also] to carry that message to the next generation of people I hope will join us in this room in the future.

I was at Columbia Law School. I was in one of the classrooms where Justice Ginsburg taught until she joined the bench and shortly before I became a student and sat in that same classroom myself. And it was just so exciting to see the enthusiasm of a standing-room audience of 160 students who came for a lunch that actually was not that good in terms of the food, but their enthusiasm lit up the room. And I saw in them an interest in the message that I believe that you all are already conveying, and that all of us need to come together to share with the next generation of law students and others who are thinking about what profession that they’re going to devote their careers pursuing. At a time when people increasingly in college question whether they want to go to law school, I think our message should be simple, it should be loud, and it should be clear. If you want to work with other people, become a lawyer. If you want to help other people, become a lawyer. If you want to give a voice to voiceless, stand up and go to court as a lawyer. If you want to help the helpless—if you want to give hope to the hopeless, become a pro bono lawyer. And the great thing about us tonight is we come from many different places, we represent many different clients, we focus our day jobs in many instances on many different areas of the law, but we share one thing in common, we are pro bono lawyers, and we should be proud of it.

Thank you very much.