Panel Recap: The Chief Legal Officer’s Point of View: Sustainability, Racial Justice, and In-House Pro Bono

By PBI Intern Søren Whiting

On October 21, 2021, at the 2021 Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Annual Meeting, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) hosted an engaging panel discussion on leaders of corporate in-house departments engaging their teams to strengthen their sustainability, racial justice, and in-house pro bono missions. Todd Machtmes, Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Salesforce**, Sandra Phillips Rogers, Group Vice President, General Counsel, Chief Legal Officer, and Chief Diversity Officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc.; and Allon Stabinsky, Senior Vice President and Chief Deputy General Counsel, of Intel** served as panelists and provided a great discussion. PBI President & CEO Eve Runyon moderated the conversation.

The panel discussed several critical issues that impact mature in-house pro bono programs. For starters, there has been a shift in corporations towards demonstrating sound environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices to investors, redefining how some corporations engage with their communities in a meaningful way. Additionally, the impact of the pandemic paired with the recent calls for racial justice has provided companies with a unique opportunity to use pro bono to advance initiatives that aim to better their local community and the broader planet as a whole. As a result, more and more companies are looking at the intersection of these various issues and considering the role pro bono plays in addressing them.

There are many different models that corporations are deploying to create real change within communities. At Intel, pro bono is being deployed through a corporate strategic framework for corporate responsibility called RISE 2030, which is modeled to a large degree off of the United Nations sustainable development goals (UNSDGs). Internal initiatives in the legal department align with the larger corporate goals to accelerate the positive impact of their programs. Through RISE 2030, Intel has committed resources to creating a work environment that is sustainable, responsible, and inclusive through initiatives such as developing carbon-neutral computing and intentionally hiring talent from more diverse backgrounds. Stabinsky expressed that combatting the disproportionate representation of black attorneys within legal fields is a significant objective of Intel’s racial justice mission within the legal department. Noting that roughly 13% of America’s population is Black, but only 5% of lawyers are Black, Stabinsky said that Intel seeks to get to the heart of the problem and improve the pipeline for Black attorneys. Intel has partnered with North Carolina Central University, one of the many Historically Black College & Universities (HBCU)s that are a real source of talent for the Black legal profession in the United States, to launch a new tech law and policy center, with Intel investing $5 million into the program during a five-year partnership.

Racial justice is also a top priority for Intel when it comes to pro bono work. Most notably, Intel has created a full-time racial justice pro bono counsel position that is responsible for advancing Intel’s racial justice values through pro bono work. This position has enabled Intel’s legal department to effectively mobilize around hosting “second chance expungement” clinics and advocating for second chance laws. This year, Intel has hosted multiple expungement clinics and is working toward a goal of dedicating 1000 hours to pro bono.

Salesforce has also aligned pro bono with the corporation’s ESG corporate goals. Salesforce has set a framework for addressing racial equality and justice and continues to drive racial equality and an inclusive employee experience through four pillars: people, philanthropy, purchasing, and policy. In particular, Machtmes stated that their in-house legal department has a unique role in implementing ESG practices, including by working closely with the legal department’s pro bono steering committee. One strategy that Salesforce’s legal team deploys to increase pro bono in conjunction with ESG is to mobilize around the Salesforce practice that gives all employees seven days of volunteer time off (VTO). Members of the legal departments commit at least five hours of their volunteer time to pro bono work, having attorneys use their skills as legal professionals to help others. There are many ways in which attorneys may spend their hours, including serving organizations that support diverse communities, participating in bail clinics, and helping small business owners from marginalized communities.

Additionally, outside of pro bono hours, attorneys also use their legal skills to help Salesforce’s government relations branch advance priorities for durable policy reform. For attorneys at Salesforce, this includes evaluating proposed legislation language, joining amicus briefs, and providing pro bono legal help to those working on services for immigration and homelessness. Attorneys also serve as poll watchers and legal counselors for polling places during elections. Machtmes shared that this combination of pro bono and ESG goals stems from a shared understanding of the importance of giving back and being active in our communities.

Toyota Motors North America also has had success aligning pro bono and ESG. Phillips Rogers shared that her legal team has had a leadership role in helping facilitate conversations around corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as well as ESG. She noted that sustainability goals are the “north star” for the company, including enhancing the environment in which team members live and work, reducing inequality, building sustainable cities and communities, working toward gender equality and the elimination of poverty, and building strong institutions. All of these issues flow nicely into pro bono efforts that the legal team is pursuing. Pre-pandemic, the legal department aligned its pro bono opportunities with corporate goals such as helping veterans; since the pandemic, the team has focused on social justice issues.

In fact, Phillips Rogers shared that the impact of the pandemic and the renewed focus on racial and social justice issues has invigorated her team to be more engaged in pro bono. Despite the many work environment roadblocks such as virtual meetings, burnout, and fatigue, the pro bono program has never been more active. The legal team has been energized to do the work and sees pro bono as a rallying call, invigorating the team to get further involved in the company’s global communities. A few initiatives that have emerged from the intersection of ESG, racial justice, and pro bono include the creation of routine expungement clinics, involvement in the non-unanimous jury verdict project to challenge convictions in Louisiana without a unanimous verdict, training law enforcement to be active bystanders, and involvement in non-partisan election protection hotlines. Moreover, by using the virtual meeting space intentionally, pro bono efforts have become more efficient. For example, rather than holding a two-day expunction expo that requires travel, Toyota hosted a virtual expo over several weeks. It was easier for attorneys to book pro bono hours at their convenience, and they did not have to incur travel time to be physically present at a clinic, resulting in greater participation and more clients served—a true silver lining.

The panel conveyed that this is a unique moment for increased community engagement of corporate legal departments, including through pro bono legal services. By aligning with the broader corporation’s sustainability and racial justice goals, the legal department can strengthen its pro bono program and even increase engagement. Pro bono is an excellent opportunity for legal departments to mobilize around these critical objectives and meaningfully serve the communities in which their employees live and work.

**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory