Transactional Pro Bono

Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) project is excited to highlight the legal department of Advance for this month’s Signatory Showcase. In 2022, Advance partnered with the nonprofit Start Small Think Big (SSTB) to provide transactional legal services to Black and women-owned small business owners in the e-commerce field making less than $50,000 a year. The volunteers applied their commercial lawyering expertise on a variety of issues, ranging from privacy to terms of use for doing business online to intellectual property. SSTB provided support to the volunteers, including template documents that the volunteers could review and customize before they met with the clients. 

CPBO spoke with Dora Ramos, Director of Legal Operations, and Jake Lipman, Director of Administrative Services for the Legal Department, about what made this experience a successful and replicable in-house pro bono project.

First, the full department, both lawyers and staff, participated in this project. For example, both Dora and Jake, along with other business professionals in the legal department, were able to work with attorneys to prepare their clients’ documents. Jake also helped coordinate the logistics of the project, matching volunteers’ skillsets with the clients’ needs. This was a great way to encourage lawyers and legal staff who may work together on day-to-day business to partner on pro bono. After the client meetings, paralegals and administrative assistants updated the clients’ documentation and sent it back to SSTB, to send the final products to the clients.

Second, the Chief Legal Officer of Advance, Michael Fricklas, participated in the project, setting the tone from the top and encouraging other members of the legal department to participate. Michael partnered with another colleague to help a company, selling beauty products with their statements on their website, and applied his expertise in intellectual property to serve the client.

Third, with many employees preferring to work remotely these days, this pro bono opportunity was a successful example of remote pro bono. The volunteers received documentation electronically from SSTB in advance of the clinics, and then met with their clients in virtual break-out groups. It was easy for the volunteers to review legal documents with their clients by sharing their screen. Jake shared, “The virtual environment is all I have ever known. As long as the lawyers are admitted in the right state, you can be wearing sweatpants and still help somebody.” Dora agreed that the pro bono volunteers were “very comfortable collaborating virtually” with their clients.

Fourth, the volunteers used their existing skillset to do pro bono. Some clients needed help with doing business online, or privacy statements, or legal help with their website. Because SSTB communicated the clients’ specific needs in beforehand, Advance could marry the volunteers’ skills to the vendors’ needs. This made the experience satisfying for the volunteers, who could provide the advice and counsel without additional training. Dora commented that for some corporate lawyers “the fear factor comes in” when they are asked to go to court for a pro bono matter, and “sometimes the lawyers feel a pro bono opportunity is not exactly in their wheelhouse.” By contrast, “with this particular engagement they knew in advance what was required of them and they felt supported.” This was a great opportunity to do pro bono with which they felt comfortable. Pro bono volunteers found it so meaningful to serve these clients that the department decided to purchase products from their pro bono clients’ small businesses as holiday gifts for employees. This further helped move the needle for the small business clients during the holiday season.

Advance continues to serve small business clients in 2023. Congratulations to Advance on their impactful pro bono work.

Find out more about the work of other signatories here.