The Force Multiplier Effect: Combining Partnership, Mentorship, Technology and More to Serve Nonprofits and Impact Community

PBI Signatory Showcase Interview with Koch Capabilities, LLC and Barnes & Thornburg LLP

In February 2020, weeks before the pandemic began to ripple across the U.S., Koch Industries welcomed representatives from our panel of preferred law firms to Wichita. Koch General Counsel Ray Geoffroy felt strongly that Koch had a tremendous opportunity to accomplish so much good for society by leveraging our combined capabilities (internal lawyers and external panel firm lawyers) on a larger scale.  He challenged the law firms to partner with our Pro Bono Initiative and become a “force multiplier” to Koch’s efforts. Further, he set the expectation that the firms’ commitment to our Pro Bono Initiative would be considered as a factor in our awarding work.

A few months after the Wichita summit, Koch panel firm Barnes & Thornburg committed 10,000 hours of pro bono work to our Initiative — across all subject matter areas, all offices, and all attorneys around the U.S. — to support the nearly 320 non-profit community organizations backed by Stand Together, a philanthropic community founded by Charles Koch, our chairman and CEO.  These organizations, or Catalysts are at the forefront of delivering powerful, meaningful, and lasting positive change in their communities. Catalysts are focused in one or more of the following areas: addiction, mental health and trauma; courageous collaboration (addressing racial and other issues that divide communities); criminal justice (including in-prison, reentry and second chances); economic mobility (including financial empowerment, entrepreneurship and workforce development); health care; homelessness; and youth and education.

Melissa H. Brown
Associate General Counsel, Public Policy and Pro Bono
Koch Capabilities, LLC

For Barnes & Thornburg, the initiative gives its attorneys the opportunity to use their skills to help these Catalysts further pursue these missions, while also mentoring its next generation of leaders. Barnes & Thornburg endeavors to pair an associate on each matter with a partner who possesses subject matter expertise, giving the associate an opportunity to learn and grow in the practice.

What has been the role of Koch Capabilities in this project? What has been the role of Barnes & Thornburg in this project?

Working with the Catalyst community and Stand Together Foundation, Koch created an on-line portal where Catalysts can submit their request for pro bono assistance.  These requests range across issues – employment/HR, corporate governance/non-profit formation and expansion; contracts; IP; real estate; litigation; data privacy – anything that the non-profit organization needs to help them grow and thrive.

Once the need is submitted, Barnes & Thornburgh reaches out to their attorneys who have the substantive expertise to address the request.  The Barnes & Thornburg assigned team is also matched with an internal Koch legal professional.  Together, the attorneys assist the Catalyst with their legal need.  This pairing creates mutual benefit for Barnes & Thornburg and our Koch attorneys: we get to know more of the Barnes & Thornburg attorneys (and their areas of specialty) on a direct basis, which provides a deeper partnership level between the firm

Matt Ellis
Chief Counsel, Commercial
& Pro Bono
Koch Capabilities, LLC

and our company.  Barnes & Thornburg’s attorneys then work hand-in-hand with the Catalyst to advise, counsel, and resolve the legal issues raised, collaborating with Koch Capabilities along the way.  And the Catalyst receives the benefit of our substantial joint legal knowledge.

Why are the collaborations with the community-based Catalyst organizations so important?

Most Catalyst organizations have limited financial resources.  Through this partnership, the Catalyst can preserve its scarce resources for their substantive work, instead of using those resources for legal fees.

What impact has this pro bono work made?

 The impact is reflected in the stories of each of the Catalysts served, and each Catalyst’s story is unique.  Since the Initiative’s inception – and the original pledge from Barnes & Thornburg in 2020 – pro bono legal assistance has been provided to over 121 different Catalysts with 249 different legal projects/questions.  Barnes & Thornburg has provided over 5,500 hours of pro bono attorney assistance by over 120 attorneys and will continue to work toward meeting its goal to provide 10,000 by the end of 2025.  At the close of 2023, this equated to over $4,000,000 worth of attorney assistance to the Catalyst community. So far in 2024, Barnes & Thornburg has engaged in more than 20 new

Jason Bernstein
Barnes & Thornburg LLP

pro bono matters with the Catalyst community.

This mutually beneficial partnership has, by way of example:

  • helped Café Momentum expand into more cities, so that more at risk and justice-impacted young adults can receive job training (and a sense of purpose).
  • provided National Angels with employment and contract assistance so they can focus on the children, youth and families experiencing foster care.
  • assisted The Phoenix with employment, IP and grant-issuance questions so that they can do more to address addiction and social isolation in communities.
  • enabled several nonprofits to improve their data privacy practices to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

One pro bono client has been working to expand its low-cost, values-aligned fiscal sponsorship program and make it accessible to community-focused organizations across the U.S. As of 2022, these organizations have collectively saved over $450,000 in fiscal

Mark Wallin
Barnes & Thornburg LLP

sponsorship fees. A key barrier in this expansion: the immense legal burden and administrative undertaking that comes with starting in new states. That’s where the Koch Pro Bono Initiative helped in partnership with Barnes & Thornburg, quickly connecting the client’s executive director with six lawyers to support their pro bono project. The impact has generated a series of mutually beneficial outcomes. As a result of these efforts, the client has been able to expand to 26 states in 2022. Without these pro bono services, the client estimates that it would have taken an additional two years and more than $250,000 in legal fees to complete by themselves. One of the organizations sponsored by this client in Sacramento, California, saved $150,000 on a single $1 million grant – $150,000 that went straight back into community mental health programs rather than having to pay their previous fiscal sponsor. The client’s goal is to sponsor 1,000 organizations by 2030, equating to tens of millions of dollars per year savings for communities around the country.

What would you say the most challenging part of this type of project is?

Finding better ways to timely connect lawyers to projects – both internally and with Barnes & Thornburg.  When this collaboration started, Koch and Barnes & Thornburg spent many hours and many e-mails finding the right lawyers.  Automation has helped.  In fact, after hearing about one company’s use of AirTable at the Pro Bono Institute’s 2024 Annual Conference in March, we have been experimenting with broader usage of AirTable to assist the attorney-project connections.

Is there any advice that you would give to other legal departments or firms who want to become more focused on a certain pro bono issue?

Collaboration is the key to the “force multiplier” equation.  By working together with our outside panel firms, we have increased engagement and impact across the Catalyst community.  And there are so many great resources and experiences out there that can be replicated (with appropriate tweaks for a particular organization).  Create a vision—share it and build a team of like-minded organizations to make it happen.  Play the long game—success is built as parties commit to an objective and consistently work over the course of weeks, months and years.