PBI is honored to present Zurich North America and Laura J. Lazarczyk, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, with the 2024 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award at the PBI 2024 Annual Conference on March 7.
This annual award recognizes an individual’s or organization’s exceptional commitment to pro bono as demonstrated by exemplary engagement in pro bono legal services.
Zurich North America’s Legal Department joined PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative in 2016. Zurich North America’s Pro Bono Program engages legal professionals across the organization who provide a broad range of volunteer services, including advising nonprofits, representing individuals in immigration proceedings, drafting estate planning documents, and much more.
The engagement of Zurich employees in the pro bono program exceeds national averages. For example, in 2023, 100% of Zurich’s U.S.-based lawyers in Legal Counsel roles volunteered to participate in the pro bono program. In 2023 alone, Zurich staffed 150 volunteer shifts in the U.S. totaling 500 pro bono service hours. In addition, Zurich is expanding its pro bono program globally by sourcing volunteer opportunities for colleagues in regions outside the U.S.
Pro Bono Clinics
Zurich attorneys and legal professionals regularly donate their time and skills to staff pro bono clinics supporting various causes, including, but not limited to:
Equip for Equality
Zurich has staffed Equip for Equality’s Special Education Rights Helpline in Chicago once a week, year-round, since 2012. Parents and guardians continue to be desperate for much-needed legal advice to navigate the complex special education laws that ensure their child’s right to an education. Zurich pro bono volunteers from across the organization consult with families of children with disabilities, providing a legal resource for parents who are navigating specialeducation issues on behalf of their children. Zurich provided 2,200 volunteer hours in support of the Special Education Hotline since the inception of its pro bono initiative.
In 2023, the Zurich Pro Bono Program collaborated with the Zurich Employee Resource Group, AbilitieZ, to provide educational programming and pro bono opportunities in support of diverse and inclusive communities, including bringing in speakers from Equip for Equality. AbilitieZ fosters an inclusive workplace environment that focuses on building a culture that celebrates differences through development, connection, support, and engagement.
Zurich’s pro bono program partners with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) on a variety of immigration matters. Heartland Alliance’s NIJC is dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
In 2023, Zurich lawyers volunteered to provide pro bono legal services to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants (DREAMers). Through the clinic, Zurich attorneys served over a dozen DREAMers to help them renew DACA status, allowing these individuals to remain legally in the United States, renew their work authorization, and pursue their education and professional careers. Zurich volunteers helped DACA applicants understand and accurately complete the renewal application forms, increasing the likelihood that the applications will be successful.
Zurich also participated in the NIJC’s Corporate Call to Action, volunteering to take on several full representation asylum cases alongside several external law firm partners to assist clients in navigating the application and hearing process.
In 2022, Zurich’s Pro Bono Committee co-hosted an in-person asylum clinic for Afghan refugees with the NIJC. Working alongside interpreters, Zurich volunteers assisted individuals with completing and filing their I-589 asylum applications for pro se filing, providing assistance to asylum seekers and their families. The program was designed to support vulnerable Afghans, many of whom worked alongside the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
Criminal Records Relief
Zurich co-hosts multiple criminal records relief clinics annually with Legal Aid Chicago. According to the Heartland Alliance, there are 1,189 laws on the books in Illinois that restrict access to employment, education, housing, and more for people with criminal records. Clearing criminal records by petitioning the court allows these individuals to regain full access to employment, housing, education, and other services.
Zurich also co-hosted an in-person, In Forma Pauperis Affidavit pro bono clinic in Louisiana in 2023, in partnership with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. Volunteers helped clients complete their petitions which allowed them to seek various forms of judicial relief such as criminal records expungements.
Illinois Free Legal Answers Online
Illinois Free Legal Answers is a secure website where low-income Illinoisans can ask a lawyer for help with a civil legal issue. It is a virtual walk-in legal clinic. Zurich’s volunteer lawyers log onto the site and answer questions waiting in the queue. Free Legal Answers was created by the American Bar Association to increase access to information about non-criminal legal matters for those who cannot afford legal assistance.
Helping To Build the Pipeline of Public Interest Lawyers
Zurich’s Pro Bono Program sponsors a summer intern through the Public Interest Law Initiative’s (PILI) Internship Program each year. PILI’s Law Student Internship Program connects law students with legal aid agencies in Illinois. Through this program, Zurich helps legal service agencies increase their impact while also helping law students develop their legal skills and strengthen their commitment to public interest law and service. Since 2021, Zurich’s PILI-sponsored summer intern has been placed with Equip for Equality.
Chicago Bar Foundation, Investing in Justice Campaign
In 2023, Zurich participated in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Investing in Justice Campaign. As a result of the great engagement and generosity of Zurich colleagues and the Z Zurich Foundation, thousands of dollars were raised by way of employee donations to support local legal aid organizations. The Investing in Justice Campaign is the largest campaign of its kind anywhere in the country.
Those receiving services via the Campaign include veterans, children, domestic violence survivors, people at risk of losing their homes, immigrants fleeing prosecution and abuse, and many other low-income people in need of legal assistance.
Zurich’s Pro Bono Program uses technology to ensure an efficient and effective process for creating and communicating pro bono opportunities within the organization. The program also leverages technology to track volunteer hours and measure the impact more easily. This not only saves time for program coordinators, but also provides accurate and transparent data for reporting purposes.
Zurich’s Pro Bono Program has been recognized by the Z Zurich Foundation with a Community Hero Award. In addition, in 2023, Zurich’s Pro Bono Program was honored with the Public Interest Law Initiative’s Annual Pro Bono Initiative Award.
Chief Legal Officer Laura J. Lazarczyk established the Pro Bono Program in 2011. Lazarczyk is known for fostering a service mindset and culture of giving among her teams. “Giving back is at the very heart of Zurich’s culture, and the Legal Department wholeheartedly supports these endeavors,” she said.
About Laura J. Lazarczyk
Laura J. Lazarczyk is the Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary for Zurich North America. She is responsible for the Legal Services team, which includes the Corporate Law, Canada Legal, Government & Regulatory Relations, and Legal Operations departments for all North America businesses. She previously served as the Head of the Zurich Women’s Innovation Network (WIN). Prior to joining Zurich in 2009, she was Chief Compliance Officer, Assistant General Counsel and Vice President, Human Resources at Rewards Network.
Outside of Zurich, Lazarczyk is a member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform and a member of the U.S. Department of Treasury, Federal Insurance Office, Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance where she is Co-Chair of the Climate Subcommittee. She previously served a three-year term on the Federal Reserve Board Insurance Policy Advisory Committee and as Co-Chair of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association Legal Subcommittee.
PBI named the award as a tribute to the Honorable Laurie D. Zelon, retired Associate Justice of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal, who was one of the originators of the PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative. Justice Zelon served as chair and was a longtime member of the California Access to Justice Commission. She has been active with several statewide judicial committees addressing justice administration issues.