Pro Bono Matchmaking

tldefWe can’t believe it’s already been three months since pro bono leaders from law firms, legal departments, and public interest organizations from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 2015 PBI Annual Conference to share ideas on how to enhance the performance, efficiency, and effectiveness of their pro bono efforts. Each year, law firm and in-house attendees make new connections and forge fruitful relationships with public interest organizations during the Pro Bono Expo Lunch and other networking opportunities throughout the Conference.

For example, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) has attended the Conference for the past two years and has used the event as an opportunity to expand the scope of its Name Change Project.

We’ve previously reported on this Project’s inspiring work. We recently spoke with Michael Silverman, TLDEF’s executive director, about the new pro bono connections he’s made at the Conference and how they’ve helped expand TLDEF’s reach:

The PBEye: Can you tell me about how you started working with Dykema Gossett*† in Michigan?

M.S.: Two years ago I met Heidi Naasko when we spoke on a panel together. I stayed in touch with Heidi and reached out to some of my contacts in the transgender and larger LGBT community in Michigan about the need for legal assistance with name changes. Jointly, we decided that we were going to take a shot at launching a Name Change Project in Michigan. Dykema lawyers took our preexisting handbook for New York and translated it into Michigan practice. Once we got a few community members through the process, we opened it up to more people and now the Project is fully functioning.

The PBEye: What are your future plans in Michigan?

M.S.: The next step is probably going to be in the fall. We plan to have a Detroit area training for attorneys, not just from Dykema, but from the other large law firms in the area interested in participating in the Project. We are clearly sensing a need in the community.

The PBEye: We’ve also heard that you are working with Alston & Bird*†. Can you discuss how that developed?

M.S.: I had a similar experience at the Conference this year with Cheryl Naja from Alston & Bird in Atlanta. Cheryl and I spoke on a panel together about storytelling and it’s just a testament to what a great networking opportunity the Conference is. We stayed in touch after the Conference and I asked if she thought anybody at the firm would be interested in helping us serve the transgender community in Atlanta. Cheryl was absolutely gung-ho about it and immediately pulled in key players from her firm who were similarly enthusiastic. We had our first meeting a couple of weeks ago and have already begun serving clients in Atlanta. We’ll be spreading the word about the Project in the community and training more lawyers soon. We already have enough interest from people to sense that this is moving forward with real momentum.

Michael’s experience at the Conference is a prime example of how the event can serve as the source of long-term relationships, which lead to new opportunities for meaningful and innovative pro bono work. We are looking forward to what the 2016 PBI Annual Conference, which will be held in Washington, D.C., on March 23-25, has in store.

If your firm or legal department is interested in getting involved with the Name Change Project, contact TLDEF. To learn more about the struggle for transgender rights, check out “The Quest for Transgender Equality,” a recent New York Times editorial series that featured TLDEF’s work.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

This interview has been condensed and edited for space.