In 2002, Qwest Communications International Inc. launched its “Spirit of Service” campaign to emphasize its dedication to customer satisfaction. That same year brought the leadership of Rich Baer as Executive Vice President and General Counsel to Qwest’s legal department. Embracing the new motto, Baer encouraged the department to develop a pro bono program that would allow it to serve the needs of those in the communities in which Qwest employees live and work.
In 2003, under Baer’s direction, an enthusiastic group of attorneys formed a Pro Bono Committee led by Associate General Counsel Christie Searls. As first steps, the Committee established a Pro Bono Policy and concise mission statement and worked with the company’s Risk Management group to ensure that the program provided malpractice insurance to its participants. The Committee then assembled a suite of pro bono volunteer options and training designed to make participation convenient and comfortable. Volunteers can, for example, sign up to provide pro bono counsel for a halfday once per month or can sign on for a single, longer term matter.
Some of Qwest’s most successful projects include: a Family Law Court Program, in which Qwest employees partner with Metro Volunteer Lawyers to help indigent clients in uncontested divorce and child custody proceedings; and legal clinics at two local homeless shelters – the Gathering Place and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless — where volunteers meet with and give legal advice to indigent individuals.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless clinic was established in 2005 and quickly became a popular initiative, with four or five Qwest attorneys conducting assessments of 15 to 20 clients per month. Qwest lawyers also accept individual cases from the clinics, achieving notable results including:
- Representing a homeless man and his brother who were due a $14,000 inheritance;
- Negotiating a reduction to a large child support back payment for a homeless man; and
- Obtaining a U visa for an undocumented woman who had assisted in the prosecution of a man who sexually assaulted her.
Another Qwest success story involves a lawyer who handled an asylum case for a young Somali woman named Farah. After spending many years living in various African countries as a refugee, Farah eventually was able to travel to the United States. She arrived alone in New York City in 2003, having been forced to leave her family behind. Thereafter, she was transferred to Denver and allowed to apply for asylum. In August 2005, with the help of a Qwest lawyer, Farah finally won asylum. She has since finished high school and is studying to become a nurse. Farah also now qualifies to apply for U.S. citizenship, which she plans to do shortly with the help of her Qwest pro bono counsel.
Most recently, Qwest expanded its program to provide more robust transactional pro bono opportunities. The department adopted two local non-profit companies that Qwest lawyers advise on a variety of issues such as contract drafting, employment policies, and intellectual property. Qwest lawyers also accept referrals from a transactional pro bono program operated with the help of the Colorado Lawyers’ Committee.