2021 FIPBD: Overcoming the Pandemic to Serve the Underserved

The second-ever Financial Institution Pro Bono Day overcame obstacles posed by COVID-19 to virtually provide crucial pro bono services to underserved individuals. Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a project of Pro Bono Institute, organized Financial Institution Pro Bono Day in partnership with pro bono leaders from 18 financial institutions, alongside partner law firms and legal services organizations.  On the day of service, January 14, 2021, more than 630 volunteers from 37 financial institutions participated. Pro bono volunteers showcased their commitment to increasing access to justice in over 50 events in cities across the United States and the United Kingdom. The events varied greatly in subject and scope, including topics such as driver’s license restoration, citizenship, uncontested divorces, transgender name changes, financial literacy, advising nonprofits, and many more. In total, nearly 1200 individuals received or benefited from pro bono services as a result of Financial Institution Pro Bono Day. The clinics and trainings of Financial Institution Pro Bono Day provided crucial legal assistance to those in need and showcased how the legal staff of prominent financial institutions can leverage their skills, in partnership with law firms and legal services organizations, to enhance access to justice.

The idea originated in a conversation during the 2018 PBI Annual Dinner. Mark Gittelman, of PNC Bank**, was reconnecting with colleagues David Brooks of Bank of America** and Arunas Gudaitis of BNY Mellon**. They shared the sentiment that it would be great to find a way for financial institutions to work together while promoting access to justice in their communities. And, after receiving tremendous support from PNC’s General Counsel, Greg Jordan, and Eve Runyon, PBI CEO, Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was born.

The first Financial Institution Pro Bono Day occurred on May 2, 2019 in 20 cities across the country. This event was organized by PBI in partnership with 14 financial institutions, and it showcased the legal talents of more than 700 volunteers from 21 financial institutions. Overall, there were 47 pro bono events throughout the day and across the country. The topics addressed in these clinics and trainings ranged from nonprofit corporate governance to transgender name changes to elder estate planning. The first Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was a great success and exemplified how the legal departments of financial institutions can participate in pro bono services and reduce the barriers to justice in their communities.

From 2019 to early 2021, the Financial Institution Pro Bono Day has evolved in several ways. The most significant was the shift from in-person events to virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, despite this obstacle, the 2021 Financial Institution Pro Bono Day was larger in scope and geographic reach than the 2019 event. This year, Financial Institution Pro Bono Day established an international presence as it stretched beyond the United States and into the United Kingdom. In doing so, the number of events increased from 47 to over 50 internationally. Additionally, the event this year was organized in partnership with 18 financial institutions, an increase from the 14 partnerships forged in 2019.

This event also expanded on the number of research projects from 2019, in which the volunteers were not meeting with clients but instead were reviewing documents and records on behalf of individuals. In 2019, the Midwest Innocence Project was an event of this nature. Dozens of volunteers were trained, on behalf of incarcerated individuals, on reviewing trial transcripts, police reports, appellate briefs, and other documents to determine whether establishing innocence was possible for numerous inmates. In 2021, research-based events increased. There was a Mid-Atlantic region Innocence Project File Review as well as Ohio Justice Policy Center’s Beyond Guilt event. The volunteers of the Beyond Guilt event, a partnership between Dinsmore & Shohl, PNC, and the Ohio Justice Center, worked on the first stage of screening prisoners seeking judicial release. By reviewing court documents and prisoner records, pro bono volunteers were able to make a preliminary determination of whether any of the applicants would be viable candidates for assistance.

Other new events featured included the Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Program introduction, where participants received an overview of issues facing unaccompanied children and opportunities to do pro bono work with KIND. Another new event in 2021 was the Driver’s License Restoration Clinic, which focused on restoring driver’s license privileges for low-income individuals who cannot afford traffic fines and subsequently had their license suspended. Another new, United Kingdom specific event was a pair of training workshops, one focused on employment, and the other a privacy training on the General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR), aimed towards charities and social enterprises. A Nonprofit Formation Training organized by Vanguard** and Philadelphia VIP, also a new event in 2021, helped local nonprofits incorporate and file for tax-exempt status at our 90-minute virtual training.

The 2021 Financial Institution Pro Bono Day showcased some great new events, overcame hurdles posed by Covid-19, and was able to positively impact over 1100 clients and more than 600 volunteers. We thank all of the financial institutions, law firms, and legal services organizations who helped organize and participated in the day’s events. And a huge thank you to all of the volunteers, without whom this event wouldn’t have been possible. The partnership and teamwork demonstrated on Financial Institution Pro Bono Day exemplifies how individuals and institutions can work together to create positive change in their communities and break down barriers to access to justice.

Lastly, here is some of the great feedback PBI received from participants of this year’s Financial Institution Pro Bono Day:

  • “Clients were thankful for the assistance and counsel on what is a very complicated application for naturalization.”
  • “Very positive, thankful for the experience in making such a big impact on someone’s life.”
  • “This event was the embodiment of a great pro bono program – it helped those in our local community in need, while also giving lawyers an opportunity to use their legal skills to directly impact a person’s life.  Because the Will Clinic partnered lawyers up from Reed Smith and PNC, it also provided lawyers with the opportunity to develop new relationships and network, despite the challenges of doing so in our currently remote practices.”
  • “Very worthwhile cause and excited to contribute to this pressing need.”

Clients also shared great feedback about their events, including:

  •  “Access to quality, free training is a godsend for a small charity with limited resources. Many thanks.”
  • “I so appreciate everyone’s time, expertise, and generosity.”
  • “[I have] lived here for 10 years, this is [my] new country, and this is important for [me].”
  •  “Thanks once again for the extraordinary programming.”

*denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Hat tip to PBI intern Olivia Ross for drafting this blog.