On July 17, The Chicago Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Foundation presented Gary Wachtel, Senior Director in the law department of Discover Financial Services** and chair of Discover’s Pro Bono Committee, with the Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award. Endowed by Exelon Corporation**, the award recognizes “the generally unsung pro bono contributions of outstanding attorneys in the corporate sector.” It is a well-deserved recognition. In addition to personally dedicating numerous hours to pro bono, in his role as committee chair, Wachtel has expanded Discover’s pro bono engagement and encouraged colleagues to participate. Under his leadership as committee chair, more than 90% of Discover’s legal team has undertaken pro bono or volunteer projects in their communities, totaling nearly 1,500 hours of pro bono service. Wachtel has also collaborated with other legal departments to increase access to justice and build the culture of in-house pro bono in the area.
One of Wachtel’s biggest accomplishments to date is leading Discover’s partnership with the non-profits, Between Friends and LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation), to establish a free help desk for survivors of domestic violence at the Cook County Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Volunteer attorneys from Allstate Insurance Company**, Discover, DLA Piper*†, and Illinois Tool Works Inc. receive training from LAF regarding domestic violence law and strategies to properly interact with survivors. Following their training, the attorneys staff the help desk with support from LAF to help survivors navigating the difficult and emotional legal process. Access to legal representation is vital for survivors, providing them with critical information that they might not otherwise receive and increasing their chances of quickly and successfully obtaining protection orders.
In addition to the Rolling Meadows Help Desk, Wachtel and Discover have become a strong partner with DLA Piper and LAF at their monthly legal services clinic in the Woodlawn neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois. Discover joined the Woodlawn Legal Clinic team in 2013 and since then dozens of Discover volunteers have contributed hundreds of pro bono hours.
CPBO congratulates Wachtel for his deep commitment to pro bono work and public service in his community. For more information on the Rolling Meadows Domestic Violence Help Desk, click here and here. For more information on the Woodlawn Legal Clinic, check out Wachtel’s 2016 guest blog here.
Hat tip to PBI intern Sahil Shah for his help on this post.