2021 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award

Discover Financial Services Legal Organization
Wanji Walcott
Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and General Counsel

Pro Bono Institute was pleased to honor Discover Financial Services Legal Organization and Wanji Walcott, Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and General Counsel with the 2021 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award. PBI will presented the award during the 2021 Annual Conference. This award is presented each year to an individual or organization that has provided exemplary pro bono service.

Discover Financial Services Legal Organization formalized its pro bono program in 2012, the same year that it became a signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative. The program developed organically out of pro bono work that Legal Organization members were doing at the time. From its inception, the pro bono program has enjoyed significant engagement in pro bono from lawyers and legal staff and has been supported at all levels of leadership. The Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and General Counsel Wanji Walcott is both a participant in, and champion of, the program and has taken a visible role in supporting pro bono within the department and access to justice within the larger legal community.

“At Discover our business is built on helping people achieve a brighter financial future and investing in our communities,” said Wanji Walcott. “Our pro bono legal work supports our core values of volunteerism and ‘doing the right thing.’ It is an honor to be recognized by Pro Bono Institute, an organization that supports in-house legal departments and law firms alike so that we can continue to make justice equally accessible to all people.”

Discover Financial Services Legal Organization has a voluntary Pro Bono Program that encourages both attorneys and staff to provide volunteer legal services in their local communities, encouraging them to give back in a substantive and charitable way while creating opportunities for employees to work on new legal issues. Additionally, the Pro Bono Program has had a significant and positive impact on teamwork, creativity, and empathy within the Legal Organization, and several of the department’s strategies used to engage and energize its volunteers have been adopted by pro bono programs across the U.S.

The Program, which has a 96 percent participation rate of the entire department, is governed by a Pro Bono Policy and is administered by the Pro Bono Committee, which consists of attorneys and staff from across the Law Department, including the General Counsel.

The Pro Bono Program offers a variety of opportunities in partnership with law firms and local legal services organizations that focus on the needs of the local community.

For example, Discover partners with:

  • Legal Aid Chicago (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF)), which helps to prevent unfair evictions, protect survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence, assists senior citizens who have been swindled by consumer scams, and more.
  • Equip for Equality, which serves as a legal advocate for people with disabilities.
  • Wills for Heroes, which provides estate planning for veterans and first responders.
  • Woodlawn Legal Clinic, a legal clinic that provides free services on issues relating to housing, public benefits, and domestic matters
  • VA Financial Literacy Project, which provides financial literacy training to veterans at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.
  • Outserve Advocacy and Winston Strawn to assist military veterans to correct discharge records relating to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The Program has also partnered with additional law firms and other corporate legal departments to create impactful pro bono engagement. In 2016 Discover collaborated with legal aid organizations including Legal Aid Chicago, other local corporate law departments, and DLA Piper to launch the Rolling Meadows Domestic Violence Help Desk, a volunteer-run help desk inside a Cook County courthouse that assists survivors of domestic violence who otherwise would have no access to legal counsel.

Discover’s Program has developed by serving as leaders within the community to focus on the communities’ needs. It allows Law employees to take an active role in support of legal services through impactful pro bono opportunities that provide direct legal services as well as promote pro bono and access to justice.

About Wanji Walcott
Wanji Walcott is the Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel at Discover Financial Services, a leading digital bank and payments services company. She is responsible for leading Discover’s legal team, advising the Executive Committee and supporting the Board of Directors. As an experienced legal executive, Walcott has extensive experience with payments, fintech, innovation, compliance, government relations, investigations, M&A, talent management and diversity. Prior to joining Discover, she served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel at PayPal. Walcott has also held positions at American Express, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, DSET Corporation and Lockheed Martin IMS Corporation.

Walcott’s excellence in the field has been recognized throughout her career, and she was most recently named Savoy Magazine’s Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America (2020); Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2019); Chambers Women in Law Award (2018); and Black Enterprise’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, 2017. She has also received the Council of Urban Professional (CUP) Change Agent in the Law Award in 2012. In 2021, Rising for Justice honors her for her continued commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of people.

PBI applauds Discover and Wanji Walcott for their continuing dedication to pro bono and access to justice.