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May 2, 2019 marked the first-ever Financial Institution Pro Bono Day (FIPBD), which was organized by PBI in partnership with 14 financial institutions in 20 cities across the country. More than 700 volunteers from 21 financial institutions participated in 47 pro bono events that addressed issues ranging from homelessness, to transgender name changes, to life planning for veterans, to green card assistance for domestic violence survivors, and many more. The barriers to access to justice can be nearly insurmountable for many underserved communities. PBI’s FIPBD showcased legal departments of financial institutions giving back through pro bono legal services to address critical legal needs.
“PBI, through Corporate Pro Bono, was very excited to convene the inaugural Financial Institution Pro Bono Day. PBI’s mission is to enhance pro bono by in-house legal departments and law firms,” said Eve Runyon, PBI President and CEO. “The events that took place across the country on Financial Institution Pro Bono Day offered extensive opportunities for in-house lawyers and legal staff to serve their communities and change lives for the better.”
Click here for more information on FIPBD events and photos.
The genesis of FIPBD came from a discussion at PBI’s 2018 Annual Dinner. Mark Gittelman, Managing Chief Counsel for PNC Bank, and colleagues at other companies were discussing the benefits of bringing together people and organizations that might not normally interact with one another to provide pro bono services.
Gittelman said, “PBI does such a great job of bringing these industry colleagues together, helping us to network and share ideas. We were sitting there talking and it dawned on us—why not take this one step further? Let’s do something with our legal cohort across the country, help people in our communities, and call attention to the need for access to justice.”
FIPBD’s scope was nationwide with events held in Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Plano, Richmond, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, D.C/Northern Virginia. Participating companies included American Express, Bank of America**, Barclays**, BNY Mellon**, Capital One**, Citigroup**, Credit Suisse, Discover Financial Services**, Freddie Mac**, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, PNC Bank**, and Wells Fargo.
The day engaged volunteers who were new to pro bono as well as volunteers with years of pro bono experience, yielding almost 100 percent participation in some offices. It offered legal staff an opportunity to expand their skills by participating in pro bono events new to their legal department, and it sparked collaboration among in-house pro bono leaders who shared information and resources.
Here is just a sample of the feedback from FIPBD events:
Thank you to all of the volunteers who gave their time and expertise to help those in need. Thank you as well to the legal service organizations and law firms that partnered with the financial institutions — without your efforts this day would not have been possible. FIPBD’s success can be attributed to the many partners that organized volunteers, hosted events, provided training for volunteers, recruited clients, and provided legal services, in furtherance of access to justice.
May the work that was done on Financial Institution Pro Bono Day fuel efforts to further support those in need. May we continue to work to break down barriers to access to justice and build on the energy and momentum generated by so many on this significant day.
Click here for more information on FIPBD events and photos.
PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference brought together attendees from law firms, legal departments, and public interest organizations from around the world on March 27-29 at the Gaylord National Resort at D.C.’s National Harbor.
For the third year in a row, in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) proposal to eliminate Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Pro Bono Institute’s Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO), the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) worked with the in-house community to gather support to ensure LSC is fully funded.
On April 29, more than 260 general counsel and chief legal officers signed a letter delivered to Congress advocating for LSC funding for FY2020. An impressive group of leaders, representing legal departments diverse in size, geography, and industry, joined this effort.
As the largest funder of civil legal aid in the U.S., LSC is the cornerstone of ensuring access to justice in the U.S., providing resources and financial support to more than 130 legal aid organizations that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments. The need for legal aid in the United States is tremendous: LSC’s 2017 Justice Gap Report found that low-income Americans approached LSC-funded legal aid organizations for support with an estimated 1.7 million problems, only half of which were fully supported due to lack of resources. Moreover, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help. The OMB proposal to defund LSC would undoubtedly exacerbate the need for civil legal services, especially in rural areas across the country where an LSC grantee is often the only source of legal help for low-income Americans.
Last year, a similar effort in response to the budget proposal to eliminate LSC gathered over 250 general counsel and chief legal officers who joined a letter to Congress to support the continued funding of LSC. Congress and the President ultimately approved a new spending package that increased LSC funding for FY2019.
This year’s letter, from general counsel and chief legal officers of companies across the country, emphasizes that equal justice is threatened when we do not ensure that low-income Americans facing serious legal problems have access to legal assistance. The letter points out that the beneficiaries of civil legal aid are members of our communities. Helping these Americans — active duty military personnel, veterans returning from wars, individuals and families impacted by the opioid crisis, survivors of domestic violence, the elderly, families in danger of losing their homes, victims of natural disasters, families involved in child custody disputes, and small business owners — with legal problems that go to the heart of living healthy, productive lives is an investment in stabilizing all our communities.
LSC recently commemorated its 45th anniversary on April 9, 2019, with a series of events, including a luncheon in Washington, D.C. featuring several distinguished speakers, including Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, and Merck & Co., Inc.** Chairman and CEO Ken Frazier. As Ken Frazier said, “For poor people, the legal issues they are confronting are existential issues happening in the every day. Civil justice is not a metaphysical thing. It is a real life issue for people.” Judge David Tatel also spoke, remarking on the importance of LSC: “Someday, with LSC’s work, our legal system might actually offer equal justice for all.”
Following the luncheon, LSC held their eighth annual Forum on Increasing Access to Justice, which included remarks by members of Congress, LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi, American Bar Association (ABA) President Robert Carlson, and others. The Forum highlighted the critical importance of filling the gap in civil legal services through legal aid and pro bono, featuring panels that addressed housing needs and highlighting collaborations to assist domestic violence survivors. The Forum also featured a panel on supporting self-represented litigants. As Carlson noted in his closing remarks, “Time and again, the number one issue we have is to secure funding for the Legal Services Corporation.”
PBI is proud to support LSC in this effort to secure funding and will continue working with the in-house community, through CPBO, and our partners in access to justice to ensure that justice for all is a reality. For more information about LSC and the efforts to secure LSC’s funding, contact CPBO at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) Access to Justice Committee, in partnership with the TBA Corporate Counsel Section and the Association of Corporate Counsel, hosted its 13th Annual Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative Gala in Nashville last month to raise awareness and support for pro bono and legal services initiatives across the state and foster corporate counsel engagement in access to justice.
Now an annual event, the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative hosted its first Gala after more than a dozen in-house pro bono leaders convened a summit in 2006 on pro bono legal services to further engagement by in-house and corporate counsel. PBI President and CEO Eve Runyon joined attendees at the event in 2006 and this year, as the keynote speaker.
Runyon noted in her remarks that “in 2006, pro bono by in-house counsel was still in its nascent stage; it had not yet been integrated into the culture of legal departments or in-house counsel associations. . . What started as a small gathering has grown to engage hundreds of lawyers from all segments of the legal community in support of pro bono, legal services, and access to justice.” Tennessee was truly ahead of the curve in organizing and leveraging in-house counsel to support pro bono, legal aid, and access to justice issues.
At this year’s event, the Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Initiative recognized the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (ETCH) and International Paper Company** for their commitment to pro bono services. ETCH was honored for its medical-legal partnership with Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET), while International Paper was recognized for the pro bono efforts of its legal department.
In 2007, the first Gala raised nearly $72,000. Since then, the Gala has proven to be a sustainable and innovative undertaking in support of corporate counsel engagement in pro bono and access to justice. The Gala now has raised more than half a million dollars in support of legal services. The funds are used to support pro bono project grants across the state that offer in-house and corporate lawyers specific pro bono opportunities tailored to their situations, skills and interests and that facilitate partnerships among corporate legal departments, law firms, and access to justice and other community service organizations to help meet local legal service gaps.
In addition to the Gala, organizers offer a day of programming on pro bono legal services for the Tennessee legal community and launch Tennessee’s month-long pro bono HELP4TN Day, which engages Tennesseans in free legal help online clinics throughout April.
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* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member