At its Annual Dinner on October 10, 2019, PBI will honor Goodwin Procter*† with the 2019 John H. Pickering Award for its outstanding commitment to pro bono legal services. Last year, the firm dedicated over 65,000 hours and served more than 1,000 pro bono clients. We spoke with Carolyn Rosenthal, Goodwin’s Director of Pro Bono, about the firm’s pro bono program and what the Dinner’s theme, Changing Lives Through Pro Bono, means to her.
PBI: Can you give us the “origin story” behind the creation and development of the firm’s pro bono program?
Providing pro bono legal services has been a cornerstone of Goodwin since its founding over a century ago. In the Depression years, our attorneys were involved in public investigations of corruption and malfeasance, as well as cases involving constitutional issues. In the 1940s, Goodwin attorneys presented part of America’s case against the Nazis at Nuremberg. And in 1968, legendary Goodwin litigator Samuel Hoar, Jr. co-founded the Boston’s Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (now Lawyers for Civil Rights). Sam, like his father before him, was a longtime Goodwin partner who firmly believed that every member of the Bar has a professional obligation to use their legal training for the benefit of the greater public good. Our pro bono work in the 1960s through the 1990s took on issues related to conservation and the environment, prisoner rights, civil rights, and legal assistance to under served communities.
We formalized our pro bono program in 1999 at the initiative of partners Regina Pisa and Bill Mayer, both of whom were strongly influenced by the value of pro bono early in their careers. In collaboration with Regina, who had just become Goodwin’s Managing Partner, Bill chaired the firm’s first Pro Bono Committee, a position he held for the next decade. Regina became involved in pro bono at the national level, joining PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee in 2001 before serving as Co-Chair, Chair, and a PBI Board member in 2017. The firm also created a pro bono staff position focused on maximizing impact and broadening engagement. At the time, I was working as Goodwin’s Corporate Department Staffing Manager. Bill knew I had previously served as the Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts and asked if I could lead this effort.
Our program continues to focus heavily on civil rights, constitutional law, and public rights. We have also expanded our coverage to include a wide range of business-related pro bono matters and initiatives, including our signature project founded in 2001, the Neighborhood Business Initiative (NBI). Through NBI, our attorneys have forged relationships with community groups and technical assistance providers, building an innovative program to serve the business legal needs of low-income entrepreneurs and small business owners in under-served neighborhoods, or those whose business positively impacts inner-city areas. Our pro bono program reflects our overall growth as a firm: in 2000 we dedicated approximately 17,000 pro bono hours, and in 2018 that number grew to over 65,000. We view our pro bono work as integral to how we practice law and that is why this work has been a part of Goodwin’s docket for over 100 years.
PBI: Goodwin is a recognized leader in law firm pro bono – what is the scope and reach of your pro bono work?
Goodwin’s pro bono work has produced signature achievements throughout the firm’s history: securing access to a public school education for homeless children in National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, et al. v. State of New York, et al., a landmark New York decision with national implications; being a catalyst for Massachusetts to be the first U.S. state to recognize marriage for same-sex couples; forming a de novo chartered bank in the South Bronx which offers quality banking services in a neighborhood critically under-served in financial services; driving the formation of the One Fund, in collaboration with municipal and business leaders, to provide real time financial support to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings; supporting a Goodwin associate to successfully argue a seminal immigration case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Pereira v. Sessions; and most recently filing an amicus brief in Department of Commerce v. State of New York, the U.S. Supreme Court case concerning the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. Because of the firm’s support of our pro bono efforts, we have been able to help shape new laws, break down barriers, and create new opportunities for members of our communities.
While not all our pro bono work makes headlines, it is certainly life changing for the people we help directly and indirectly. We serve more than 1,000 pro bono clients each year through matters that involve a wide range of legal assistance, including poverty law matters, veterans’ benefits, criminal defense, immigration, education law, benefits law, and the representation of local, national, and international nonprofit organizations working in areas such as education, health and safety, peace-building and democracy initiatives, historic preservation, microfinance, and environmental protection. Through NBI, our attorneys have forged relationships with community groups and technical assistance providers and built an innovative program serving the business-related legal needs of low-income entrepreneurs and small business owners through direct representation and neighborhood-based legal workshops and clinics. All these efforts reflect our attorneys’ commitment to leveraging their expertise and platform to help enhance the lives of others.
PBI: What is your most memorable pro bono client?
Each year an exoneree and former client of the firm speaks to summer associates about his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, and the pro bono attorneys who ultimately helped secure his release. Our client was wrongly convicted in two separate trials of attacks on women. At both trials, he was convicted based on questionable identifications by the victims. Although rape kits were prepared, and the victims’ clothing was submitted in both cases, no biological tests were ever performed, and he was sentenced to life in prison after the second trial. After years of professing that he was innocent of the charges, he was exonerated based on DNA testing of the biological evidence proving his innocence.
I have heard this client speak on more than a dozen occasions, and each time I am drawn to tears. His resilience and positive attitude are amazing. But most importantly, his story reminds me of the frailties of our justice system, the importance of protecting the rule of law, and the value of providing effective assistance of counsel. The Innocence Project reports that since 1989 there have been 365 DNA exonerees, many of whom were sent to prison based on eyewitness misidentifications, the misapplication of forensic science, and even false confessions. And for each of these wrongful convictions, the real perpetuator was not identified, creating the potential for that person to commit additional crimes. I am struck by the fact that this client could be anyone’s son, brother, father, uncle, grandfather, or friend, and it is truly an honor to play a role in giving a voice to people who could not otherwise advocate for themselves, and to ensure that the processes and protections built into our justice system are followed.
PBI: How does Goodwin recognize and celebrate pro bono at the firm?
We recognize the importance of pro bono work by providing one-for-one billable hour credit for all pro bono hours and making sure that pro bono work is recognized in the firm’s annual review and elevation processes. We also celebrate our pro bono successes. Each year the firm holds a multi-office pro bono celebration where we present the Robert B. Fraser Pro Bono Award to a deserving partner and associate. This prestigious honor recognizes our attorneys’ outstanding service to our clients and/or community, and the special contributions the honorees make to the establishment or expansion of pro bono opportunities at Goodwin. Additionally, this event recognizes our “pro bono stars” – attorneys and professional staff who meet the firm’s annual goal of billing at least 50 pro bono hours. These “stars” also receive a banner on their office nameplate that serves as a badge of honor for achieving this goal and allows those passing through our halls to see the firm’s high level of pro bono engagement. We believe that our attorneys will feel more comfortable getting involved in pro bono in an environment where they can see that their colleagues are engaged and celebrated for their work. Finally, we strive to share our pro bono client victories through stories posted on the Goodwin intranet and emails from the firm’s Chair, and we are big on sending thank you notes throughout the year for contributions of all kinds.
PBI: How do you make sure that all offices perform pro bono work at a high level, with significant involvement?
Like many things in life, pro bono is a “relationship” business. As a result, we try to customize pro bono opportunities for each office based on the interests of its attorneys and the needs of the community. To leverage personal connections locally, we select at least one partner from each of our U.S. offices, and one from our London office, to serve on the firm’s Pro Bono Committee. We then work closely with these attorneys, as well as our local Attorney Development Managers, to build broad-based participation and deepen our connection to local community needs and attorney interests. I visit each U.S. office at least once a year to get to know our attorneys on a personal level and develop opportunities that will resonate with them. I find this face-to-face interaction particularly important for engaging those not accustomed to doing pro bono work. Each month we send a report to our Pro Bono Committee and our practice and office leaders that shows our attorneys’ performance against several benchmarks and compares our current performance to previous years. We remind our firm leaders about the resources available to help attorneys identify pro bono work that may be of interest to them, and we ask our leaders to recognize and reward pro bono work already being done in their offices and practices. Since leadership support for pro bono is critical, this regular communication helps us to ensure that office and practice leaders are encouraging our attorneys to participate in pro bono.
PBI: What led Goodwin 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?
In 1999, when I was asked to lead the firm’s pro bono efforts, the first thing I did was Google “pro bono.” At the time, I had no idea that pro bono management was a role in law firms. I immediately discovered PBI and was glad to know that I would not be alone. Looking back, PBI not only gave us a valuable jump-start in developing pro bono policies and procedures, but it provided a community of professionals with similar goals and challenges which was incredibly helpful. I very much appreciated the opportunity to learn from the “best practices” offered, share ideas, and have people to speak with about our triumphs and tribulations.
Running a pro bono program is like running a business unto itself: management involves overseeing an enormous range of issues and details, from ethics considerations and matter intake, to marketing and tracking. Some of the details are sui generis and distinct from other departments at a law firm, so we have benefited greatly from the support of a community that deals with similar issues in the daily management of pro bono programs.
PBI: The theme of PBI’s Annual Dinner this year is Changing Lives through Pro Bono. What does that mean to you and to the firm?
At Goodwin, we make every effort to ensure that pro bono is fully integrated and respected throughout the firm. When we think about pro bono, we think about the positive changes the work has produced for clients, attorneys, staff, and the firm. To further encourage and promote our pro bono efforts, we’ve created an internal campaign called “Pro Client, Pro Career, Pro Firm, Pro Bono.” We believe this message conveys the unique power of pro bono to affect a wide array of constituencies.
Pro bono at Goodwin has always been shaped by the public spirit and entrepreneurial drive of our attorneys, and their talents and interests are reflected in a program that serves a diverse group of clients. Whether helping the wrongfully accused gain their freedom, protecting the rights of immigrants and same sex couples, or fostering economic development in low-income communities, we have seen firsthand how effective legal counsel can create real and lasting changes in people’s lives. We also provide pro bono legal representation to nonprofit organizations promoting solutions to a wide range of societal challenges. This work allows these organizations to conserve valuable resources, and our attorneys relish the opportunity to leverage their legal skills to support groups that are making meaningful contributions to the health and welfare of our communities.
Many of our attorneys have a strong interest in giving to a cause or charitable endeavor and our program allows them to do that while working full time at a major international law firm. At the same time, there are attorneys new to pro bono who discover, and benefit from, a deep sense of satisfaction from assisting vulnerable individuals, playing a vital role in shaping public policy, and/or having a chance to gain legal skills outside of their normal practice area.
Pro bono work generates a feeling of pride and community at Goodwin, as our attorneys, paralegals, science advisors, and staff – from different offices and practice groups – collaborate on a common goal. As I write this, Goodwin Chair David Hashmall, who serves on PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee, just sent out an email highlighting Goodwin’s work on an amicus brief prepared for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund concerning the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. He received a note back from an assistant in our Silicon Valley office who said, “I just want to say how proud I am to work for such a diverse firm that is so involved in this very important pro bono work.” Moments like these highlight why “Pro Client, Pro Career, Pro Firm, Pro Bono” is more than just a motto for us; it represents how pro bono has become ingrained in the fabric of our firm and an integral part of our culture and values.
Click here for more information about the Dinner, including sponsorship opportunities. Thank you to Carolyn for her insightful conversation!
Forget everything you know about millennials — the selfies, the emoji use, avocado toast. Research has shown that something millennials are becoming increasingly known for is . . . pushing corporations and firms toward more pro bono and CSR work.
In recent years, companies have focused increasingly on social responsibility and volunteerism within the professional sector. It’s no coincidence that this shift comes as the millennial generation, those individuals born between approximately 1981 and 1996, has assumed a prominent role within the workplace. According to a 2018 Pew Research Poll, millennials comprise more than one-third of the total labor force, giving them the greatest representation of any generation in the labor market. With projections that millennials will make up 75% of the labor force by 2030, the influence of this generation on the professional world will continue to grow. Check out our recent blog, A Shift to Service.
Where will your next pro bono project take you? Find out what’s happening around the world with The Global Pro Bono Survey, a resource published by PBI and Latham & Watkins*† covering pro bono practices in a compilation of locally-sourced information covering more than 85 jurisdictions, from Angola to Vietnam. The survey describes the legal landscape and provides essential details about local legal aid programs, unmet legal needs, and the rules that govern pro bono representation.
PBI has bid farewell to Tammy Sun, formerly the Director of PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) project. Tammy made many significant contributions to PBI and in-house pro bono and we wish Tammy all the best in her new role as Managing Attorney at Public Justice.
Alyssa Saunders, CPBO’s Assistant Director, has assumed the role of Interim Director. Alyssa joined PBI from Cooley, where she served on the DC office’s Pro Bono Committee, coordinated that office’s pro bono summer associate research program, and worked on a diverse array of pro bono matters, including affirmative and defensive asylum cases, social security disability appeals, and litigating civil rights cases in federal court. Alyssa has made significant contributions to CPBO’s efforts to enhance pro bono by in-house counsel and to expand the pro bono culture of legal departments.
Farewell and good luck, Tammy, and congratulations, Alyssa!