CPBO ChallengeSM Signatory Verizon Communications Inc. officially launched its pro bono program in late 2009. Already, the department has exceptionally high pro bono participation rates with attorneys and staff participating in offices across the United States. So far in 2011, nearly half of Verizon’s attorneys are participating. Under the program, the company’s more than 700 attorneys and staff are encouraged to volunteer a minimum of 25 hours per year. The department is fortunate to be under the leadership of a true pro bono devotee, Executive Vice President and General Counsel Randal Milch. The program is chaired by John Frantz, Verizon’s vice president and associate general counsel for complex litigation.
To complement the company’s larger corporate social responsibility efforts, the legal department has decided to focus its pro bono work on the following areas: education, domestic violence, and support for returning veterans.
One hallmark of Verizon’s program is its clear and consistent support from the company’s senior leadership. Verizon’s first approved pro bono project was to provide legal representation to a school for disadvantaged kids in Washington, D.C. This project, staffed by John Thorne, senior vice president & deputy general counsel, involves providing ongoing legal advice to the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys. This advice spans such areas as real estate, construction contracts, employment issues, loan agreements, and governance.
In 2010, Verizon and its pro bono partner law firm DLA Piper* worked together to staff special education enrollment centers in the Chelsea and Harlem communities of New York. Students assigned to special education programs often encounter significant challenges in obtaining an education in the New York City public school system – some parents are sent back and forth between schools and enrollment centers without their problems being resolved; some students are kept out of school because they must wait for proper placements or special education services after the school year starts; and some students with disabilities do not receive the special transportation they need to get to school.
Verizon volunteers met with parents experiencing difficulty resolving their children’s special education placement needs. Specifically, volunteers interviewed parents to better understand their experience obtaining school placement for their children, recorded parents’ experiences, and provided informational materials to parents on their children’s legal rights and resources for assistance.
Verizon also has extensive Street Law Corporate Diversity Pipeline Programs in New Jersey, Virginia, and Illinois.
Providing assistance to victims of domestic violence is a second core initiative of Verizon’s philanthropic efforts. Verizon volunteers have assisted immigrant victims of domestic violence with filing immigration papers; helped domestic violence victims secure protective orders in court; and provided corporate and business law advice to organizations, such as non-profits and shelters, serving victims of domestic violence. In particular, attorneys have worked with Legal Services of New Jersey to successfully represent victims of domestic violence in restraining order proceedings. In addition, a team of attorneys and paralegals have been working with a client who was abused by her husband and whose immigration status is in question to secure the safety of her children, obtain employment authorization, find a job, and apply for legal residency.
Recently, Verizon and DLA Piper teamed up for an innovative U-Visa clinic at My Sisters’ Place in White Plains, New York. Verizon and DLA Piper attorneys met with seven clients at the clinic to help them prepare their U-Visa applications. Verizon Spanish-speaking legal personnel assisted with notarized translations of birth certificates and marriage licenses. During the clinic, the attorneys helped the clients to document the violence they had experienced. Some of the women escaped politically oppressive countries and lived in fear of military violence. Many of them and their children had suffered severe physical and emotional abuse in their domestic situations.
Support for Veterans
Verizon’s attorneys and legal staff are extensively involved in serving returning veterans, representing seven disabled veterans in matters before the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, Verizon and DLA Piper launched a new program this year to support disabled veterans who are eligible to receive Combat-Related Special Compensation from the Department of Defense. This program is being conducted in partnership with the National Veterans Legal Service Program. After detailed training from NVLSP, Verizon and DLA Piper attorneys and legal staff have taken on more than 40 clients to help them through the process, which involves gathering evidence and submitting an application and supporting affidavit.
The Verizon legal department believes that helping returning veterans goes beyond assisting with their service-related legal issues. While on tour in Iraq, two combat Marines dreamed of making it big as filmmakers, which culminated in a budding film production enterprise. Upon deciding to start a company together, the two Marines encountered a series of legal challenges. For example, the new business partners needed to determine how best to set up a joint venture that would allow it to strengthen their business partnership and still allow for creative freedom for individual projects. Also, questions regarding what type of business entity best fit their company’s needs and purpose arose.
With years of experience in corporate formation and tax structuring, a team of Verizon and DLA Piper attorneys worked with the two veterans to formalize their business relationship in the most tax efficient and creatively-conducive manner.
Altogether, more than 50 Verizon attorneys and legal staff are involved in representing returning veterans.
Onsite Pro Bono Clinics
In addition to these projects, Verizon has co-hosted two Clinics in a BoxSM with CPBO and has plans to host several more in the coming year. During the Clinics, Verizon attorneys receive training from expert lawyers on legal issues that commonly affect nonprofit organizations. Teams of Verizon attorneys then use their new knowledge to meet with a local nonprofit client and conduct a legal check-up of the organization. The missions of many of the client organizations involve education, victims of domestic violence, and veterans.
*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®