For more than six years, Chubb North America Legal and Compliance (Chubb) has partnered with Philadelphia VIP (VIP), a legal services provider that leverages pro bono legal services to ensure access to justice for low-income Philadelphians, to provide pro bono legal services in high-need areas. In 2015, Chubb sought a unique pro bono opportunity for its volunteers that would provide clients with meaningful legal services. Knowing that the typical “one-and done” pro bono day clinics are not designed to address clients’ longer-term legal needs, Chubb and VIP worked together to develop a new “workshop” model that moved beyond one-day clinics. This model offered an innovative, replicable approach that included holding several clinic-style events to launch pro bono representations and provide ongoing support at subsequent significant milestones in the representation, as well as additional representation services beyond those meetings as needed.
When the partnership first launched, VIP worked to empower Chubb’s in-house lawyers and staff volunteers with the resources needed to engage in ongoing representation of clients. As VIP had historically struggled to secure volunteers willing to take divorce clients, Chubb and VIP initially established a two-part divorce workshop where pro bono volunteers provided clients with significant guidance concerning divorce proceedings as well as assistance with form preparation. In reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the program design, Chubb and VIP recognized that, for a variety of reasons, most of the clients served were not ultimately able to finalize their divorces on their own.
Wishing to do more, Chubb and VIP refined their workshop model to not only provide guidance and form preparation in an initial clinic setting but to also provide ongoing representation. This enhanced model blended the strengths of a clinic – a dedicated day of service that provides volunteers with training and on-site support – with longer term representation to meet the needs of clients facing legal issues that require ongoing work to resolve.
Using this model, Chubb and VIP went on to develop four programs to address high-need legal areas: 1) the Probate Workshop, to help low-income Philadelphians get title to their family homes; 2) the Estate Planning Workshop, to provide homeowners with wills and other estate planning documents; 3) the Divorce Workshop, to provide full representation to low-income clients seeking a divorce; and 4) the Nonprofit Start-up Workshop, to help nonprofit community organizations incorporate and file for tax-exempt status. Notably, many of these legal services continued to be provided during the pandemic.
This workshop model has been effective due to several key elements, including: (1) holding both volunteer training and volunteer-client meetings on the day of the workshop launch; (2) VIP providing support for Chubb’s ongoing representation of clients, including subsequent trainings and mentorship; and (3) partnering attorneys with VIP staff and other law firm volunteers to provide additional support.
Chubb and VIP’s partnership serves as a model for in-house legal departments to provide meaningful pro bono service in a way that their volunteers feel comfortable and confident with the legal representation they are providing. Through their unique workshop approach, 42 Chubb volunteers have provided in-depth, extended representation to 42 clients since its creation, serving clients in high-need areas who otherwise would not have received legal assistance and providing an exceptional example for the impact that corporate counsel can have on their community.
About the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award
Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), a project of Pro Bono Institute, created the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award to recognize innovative pro bono collaborations of in-house legal departments with law firms and public interest organizations. Pro bono partnerships that include at least one in-house legal department with one or more law firms and/or public interest organizations are eligible. The CPBO Advisory Board selects the award recipients.
The award honors legal departments and the organizations with which they partner in the provision of legal services to those in need. The award recipients are departments, law firms, and public interest organizations that have demonstrated an impact in their community through their partnership project, shown substantial involvement in the project by in-house lawyers, made tangible steps toward sustaining the relationship among the partners, developed innovative substantive or structural approaches in support of the partnership’s effort, and addressed a critical legal need or assisted a particularly vulnerable community or target population.
Over the years, the impact and innovation of the projects supported by the award recipients have been tremendously important both in the projects’ ability to address the legal needs of the communities being served and in the role the partnerships have played in supporting and furthering pro bono work, especially within the in-house community. Through these partnerships, legal departments, law firms, and public interest organizations have devised programs that contribute to the legal profession’s efforts to close the justice gap and that create strong legacies of effective pro bono service.