“As someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, ‘outside myself’. I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid.”
—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on how she wanted to be remembered
Inspiring Virtual Events that Promote Pro Bono and Continue the Racial Justice Conversation
The PBI 2020 Fighting for Justice Series continues with two thought-provoking virtual panel
discussions that you won’t want to miss.
Racial Justice Forum
Panelists: Elisa D. Garcia, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary, Macy’s, Inc.**; Tonya Robinson, Vice Chair and General Counsel – Legal, Regulatory and Compliance, KPMG LLP; and, Wanji Walcott, Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel, Discover Financial Services**
Panelists: Brett J. Hart, President, United Airlines**; Teri McClure, Former General Counsel and Chief Resources Officer, Senior Vice President of Labor Relations and Communications, United Parcel Service of America, Inc.**; and, Clarence Otis, Jr., Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Darden Restaurants, Inc. Moderated by: David Williams, Principal, Deloitte LLP**
At the PBI Awards Gala on October 1, 2020, we honored Ropes & Gray†* with the 2020 John H. Pickering Award for its outstanding commitment to pro bono legal services. Ropes & Gray demonstrates its ongoing commitment to public service by actively encouraging all of its attorneys firmwide to engage in pro bono work. In 2019, Ropes & Gray attorneys and legal professionals dedicated 172,000 pro bono hours to pressing humanitarian crises and social challenges. We spoke with Chris Conniff, co-chair of the firm’s pro bono program, about the program and what the Gala’s theme, Fighting for Justice, means to Ropes & Gray.
PBI: What does “practice with purpose” mean to your firm?
“Practice with Purpose” is a term coined by our Chair Julie Jones. It reflects our firm’s commitment to make a positive difference for our clients, our communities and our people. This requires our firm to continuously focus on both performance and purpose, a combination that allows our impact to extend beyond the work we do for clients to fundamental causes like the protection of civil rights and the just administration of the law.
PBI: How does Ropes & Gray recognize and celebrate pro bono at the firm?
Pro bono work is part of what it means to be a Ropes & Gray lawyer. Our public service commitment is a hallmark of the firm, rooted in the example set by the firm’s founders, and continuing today by giving back to our community and those most in need. We challenge all our lawyers to participate in our global pro bono program by setting an annual pro bono goal, and creating opportunities for clients and alumni to join our programming. We recognize pro bono achievement at the firm through our annual pro bono awards ceremony, and more frequently through firm announcements and newsletters.
PBI: What led Ropes & Gray to forge a relationship with PBI? Why should firms join PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative? What helpful support have you received over the years from the Law Firm Pro Bono Project?
Thanks to the years of outstanding work done by the late Esther Lardent, PBI has for decades been a terrific repository of pro bono knowledge. Through PBI’s conferences and educational materials, we have kept up to date on industry trends and collected best practice tips which we have integrated into our growing program.
PBI: What does the theme of PBI’s Fighting for Justice series mean to you and to the firm?
“Fighting for Justice” means that PBI and its members recognize the continuing problem of racial injustice in this Country and, importantly, are prepared to combat those institutions and practices that allow for continued systemic racism. The fight against racial injustice has long been a priority at Ropes & Gray. Along with being a charter member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, we continue to take on pro bono projects that support both immediate and long-term strategies for defending human rights and dismantling systemic racism. To that end, we have launched a firm-wide Racial Justice Pro Bono Opportunities Network, through which we circulate pro bono legal opportunities related to racial justice, of which over 600 of our legal professionals have joined.
PBI: What is your most memorable pro bono client?
I was very proud to co-lead a Ropes & Gray team litigating a federal class action lawsuit addressing the conditions at NYC’s largest jail complex, Rikers Island. After months of investigation, we filed suit with our co-counsel Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Program and a civil rights law firm, against New York City and a number of City correction officials alleging constitutional violations on behalf of all current and future City jail inmates. The allegations included excessive and unnecessary use of force, a lack of internal investigative functions, and other institutional failures, all with the knowledge and implicit approval of Department of Correction management. As counsel, we requested injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as a Court-appointed monitor. After three years and 30,000 firm pro bono hours, we reached a landmark settlement that led to comprehensive reform including changes to policies for use of force on inmates, new procedures to ensure accountability and installation of 7,000 new video cameras.
With our attorney fees, Ropes & Gray funded a prison reform counsel position at LAS Prisoners’ Rights Project to help ensure compliance with the Consent Judgment over its lifetime; and through Equal Justice Works, committed to endowing five successive 2-year Ropes & Gray social justice fellowships. Last month, we welcomed our third fellow, who is working with the Innocence Project on prosecutorial oversight and reform.
It’s National Pro Bono Week, October 25 – 31, 2020, with many bar associations, legal departments, law firms, and other groups hosting their own Pro Bono Week events throughout the country. This year marks the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 12th Annual Celebration of Pro Bono, a week that helps to encourage local communities to plan events that focus on pro bono work and celebrate the lawyers who have donated their time to provide legal services to those unfortunate. This year’s theme, aligning with current events, is “Rising to Meet the Challenge: Pro Bono Response to COVID-19”. Find events across the country.
Many organizations are celebrating this week by hosting pro bono events, recognizing pro bono volunteers, projects, successes and more. Join us in celebrating pro bono this week by using the #celebrateprobono in your web and social media posts for the ABA to add your celebration efforts to their website, and use this week to fuel your pro bono efforts throughout the year!
- NY COVID-19 Pro Bono Task Force Channels the Spirit of Volunteerism
- COVID-19 Pro Bono Resource Center
- A Second Chance through Expungement
- Voting for Racial Justice: How Pro Bono and Voting Rights Align
- Helping Survivors of Sexual Violence and Intimate Partner Violence in the Time of #MeToo and COVID-19
- The Cost of Driving in America: Criminalization of Poverty through Fines and Fees
- The Climate is Changing, So Why Isn’t Pro Bono?
It’s time to get excited for Financial Institution Pro Bono Day 2021! This day of legal pro bono service is planned for January 14, as a prelude to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
If you work in a legal department in the financial industry (including but not limited to credit unions, investment banks, commercial banks, and mortgage companies), we hope you’ll participate! Many financial institutions organize pro bono events to be held on FIPBD, while others volunteer at events organized by peer institutions. PBI anticipates that most or all pro bono opportunities will be virtual. It’s not too late to start planning your events!
Many financial institutions choose to partner with legal services organizations and law firms to organize and host pro bono events on FIPBD. Partner organizations may provide training and resources to the pro bono volunteers, recruit and vet clients, provide (virtual) space to hold the pro bono event, and more. We welcome your participation!
In 2019, PBI and its project that supports in-house pro bono, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), began organizing FIPBD, as a day when legal departments of financial institutions come together to use their unique skills to serve their communities through pro bono legal services. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic. Learn more about FIPBD here.
On October 15, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) hosted a session at the Association of Corporate Counsel Virtual Annual Meeting on “Integrating In-House Pro Bono, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Sustainability” where a panel of in-house leaders and experts discussed the benefits of integrating the legal department’s pro bono activities with the company’s CSR efforts, charitable contribution practices, and sustainability goals. This session was designed to explore successes and challenges in crafting pro bono opportunities that enhance corporate values and deepen the company’s ties to the communities the company serves.
CPBO’s Director, Alyssa Saunders, moderated the panel discussion between a panel of four speakers:
Renee Garcia, Managing Senior Counsel and Chair of the PNC Legal Pro Bono Committee, PNC Bank**; Christy Kane, Pro Bono Counsel, Entergy**; Sandy Paik, General Counsel, DC Green Bank; and Natalie Butto Wills, Professor, TEDx Speaker, Facilitator, Abrevista® LLC/Leadership Well™. The panelists covered a variety of topics, representing a diverse range of legal departments, from large law departments to solo counsel.
Some of the take-aways from the session included:
- Sustainability is broader than a company’s environmental practices; it also considers economic stability, diversity, social responsibility, and value creation for all stakeholders, including customers, communities, and owners. Sustainability is also a public health issue, that impacts wellness and resilience,
- While many businesses pay close attention to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), lawyers may be less familiar with the SDGs, global goals adopted by UN Member States in 2015. Legal departments can intentionally align their pro bono programs and diversity programs with the SDGs, such as Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (SDG 16), Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11), Climate Action (SDG 13), Quality Education (SDG 4), or Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8). Because corporate leaders are well-versed in the SDGs, it benefits the legal department and the pro bono program leaders to share that language when taking about the importance and value to the company of their pro bono projects.
- Pro bono programs can be intentional in selecting opportunities and making decisions about where to devote time and resources, by tying them in with broader corporate goals, philanthropic and community service efforts, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. One example discussed was that a company can magnify its impact by including multiple departments in a project. For example, a company can finance and support the construction of a homeless shelter; employees can provide community service like painting and gardening; and the legal department can provide pro bono legal services to help establish the shelter, as well as to individual shelter guests. By aligning these efforts, the company has a deeper impact.
Interested in learning more about pro bono and sustainability? Let us know at email@example.com.
UPDATE: Interested in learning more about CPBO and CPBO Director Alyssa Saunders’ career path? Natalie Butto Wills, interviewed Saunders for her leadership podcast The Leadership Well. It’s a great listen!
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic increasing both the number of people of limited means in need of legal services and the number of law firms that are seeing a downturn in their billable hours for commercial clients, PBI examined whether conditions are ripe for a renewed Deferred Associates Program, whereby law firms dedicate some of their lawyers, on a full-time basis, to public interest organizations for a substantial, but still limited, period. Such a program proved to be very successful previously during the Great Recession.
Recent surveys by Law360 and the National Association for Law Placement found that many firms have engaged in layoffs/furloughs and fully 62 percent of firms with established start dates for Spring 2020 law school graduates have pushed back those dates from traditional September starts. If those law firms with excess lawyer capacity are ready and willing to put some of their lawyers to work addressing access to justice issues, legal services organizations and public defenders (collectively “Legal Services Providers” or “LSPs”) are anxiously awaiting this desperately needed assistance.
A recent survey conducted by PBI in collaboration with the Legal Services Corporation and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association confirmed what we had been hearing anecdotally. Among other things, about one third of the responding LSPs were open to loans of associates for as little as three months. Further, more than 40 percent of LSPs would welcome assistance from lawyers that are either: (1) not admitted in the state where the LSP (or the LSP’s client) is located; or (2) have yet to be admitted anywhere (i.e., newly graduated law students who have yet to gain bar admission). Overall, 60 percent of the LSPs rated the value of a Deferred Associate Program that met their basic requirements, like duration and bar admission, at five on a scale of one to five, where five is the highest value.
Additional information can be found in a September 24 PBEyeTM blog—Thinking Long-Term in the Age of COVID-19: Implementing a Deferred Associate Program. The blog also contains links to the full results of the PBI survey described above, as well as to a previous PBI paper addressing Deferred Associate Programs. Those interested in learning more are invited to contact either the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project Director Erik Swenson (at firstname.lastname@example.org) or the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Director Nihad Mansour (at email@example.com).
SAVE THE DATE!
Tuesday, March 23 – Friday, March 26, 2021
We have begun planning for PBI’s 2021 Annual Conference – the legal profession’s premier pro bono event and the only conference specifically tailored to the interests, needs, resources, and issues faced by pro bono leaders at law firms, in-house departments, and public interest and legal services organizations! PBI’s Annual Conference offers substantive sessions, recognition of pro bono excellence, unique networking opportunities, and more. Look for all new content, more engaging than ever, including dynamic sessions and impressive speakers!
Questions? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On September 29, PBI held a Zoom session with pro bono leaders from both our Corporate Pro Bono and Law Firm Pro Bono Project® initiatives. The event featured a presentation by the National Organization for Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) regarding their compassionate release programs. Their need for attorney volunteers has recently skyrocketed due to COVID-19’s devastating impact on our nation’s jail and prison populations. NACDL is currently in need of at least 600 attorney volunteers to assist in compassionate release cases across the country.
The program described to pro bono leadership at corporations and law firms the nature of the NACDL pro bono opportunities for attorney volunteers (e.g., bar admission requirements, experience level, ability to participate remotely, time commitments, scheduling flexibility, and training and support available for participating attorneys). These opportunities include representation of pre-screened inmates who are seeking compassionate release, particularly where they are at high risk due to age, health considerations, etc. NACDL has three compassionate release programs. Between their federal, DC and Virginia compassionate release programs, there are about 1,000 cases that need to be placed.
Due to the high level of interest in the live session, on October 13, PBI offered a replay of the session recording, accompanied by a live question and answer portion by NACDL representatives. About 50 law firm and in-house representatives attended either the live program or the replay program.
If you are interested in learning more about getting involved with NACDL’s Compassionate Release programs, visit their website by clicking here.
* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member