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January/February 2018

Pro Bono Before, During, and After a Crisis

In response to the many frequent and severe disasters – both natural and human made – PBI staff have created programming for the final day of the 2018 PBI Annual Conference on Friday, February 23 that will deep dive into providing pro bono for individuals, families, and communities facing catastrophic events.

The rapid outpouring of offers of pro bono assistance in response to crises demonstrates a keen sense of ethical responsibility and a strong pro bono commitment. The challenge, however, is to channel good intentions into great results and sustained assistance to foster recovery and renewal. Participants will discuss how we can successfully develop protocols in advance that enable pro bono efforts to be proactive, efficient, and effective.

The closing session will explore lessons learned and develop strategies from experiences with disasters and emergencies that can be used to enhance pro bono infrastructure and response, create effective partnerships, and leverage pro bono efforts to meaningfully address critical, long-term legal needs.

Register for the 2018 PBI Annual Conference before February 1 to lock in the regular registration rate, for substantial savings.

And the Award Goes To...

Greg Jordan, General Counsel & Chief Administrative Officer at The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

PBI will present Gregory B. Jordan and the Legal Department of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.** (PNC) with the 2018 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award at a special luncheon on Thursday, February 22 during the 2018 PBI Annual Conference. PBI’s Zelon Award honors Judge Zelon’s leadership and her extraordinary contributions to enhancing justice for all.

Greg answered a few questions to give our readers a look behind the scenes of PNC’s successful pro bono efforts:

What inspired the launch of PNC’s pro bono program? What is the origin story?

PNC has a long history of actively supporting our communities through volunteer work and our very strong foundation. When I arrived as General Counsel in late 2013, it seemed clear that launching a pro bono program would provide a natural way for the legal team to play a more formal role supporting people in need. It was really pretty easy then to quickly generate enthusiasm and support for pro bono with senior leadership at PNC and the legal department, because giving back to the community was already embedded in the company culture. PBI supported us all the way as well – they even traveled to Pittsburgh to help us with the launch.

What was one unexpected challenge of launching the program and how did those involved overcome it?

For attorneys who are new to pro bono, it can seem intimidating or overwhelming, especially because they are already so busy with other professional and personal commitments. To overcome this, we worked hard to identify and break down barriers that might discourage our attorneys from doing pro bono work. We invited pro bono service providers to provide training during department lunches and conferences. We established a pro bono committee with representation from all of our offices. We use an online portal to present pro bono opportunities in each market and allow for quick and easy project approvals and conflicts checks. We also established a department pro bono award. It’s a work in progress, but we are always looking for ways to expand our program and make it more enticing.

What has been your most meaningful aspect of the program or a favorite partnership project?

We are already seeing a nice overlap between PNC community support projects and our pro bono program. A good example is PNC’s support for veterans with PTSD thorough our fundraising for a great organization called Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs — where we help provide the funds to develop and match service dogs for vets who are suffering. Now the legal team is working to provide pro bono legal support to the organization as well — helping vets live with their service dogs, including equal access to work, restaurants, and other services.

Do you have a personal experience providing pro bono or overseeing a pro bono matter that you can share?

I recently got involved in working closely with colleagues at other companies and law firms in the Pittsburgh area to establish an office in the city for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. It was wonderful to see so many others in the legal community join forces to make this happen but, more importantly, to see the incredible impact this project has on the lives of people who have been wrongly convicted.

For legal departments interested in starting a pro bono program, what do you wish you knew when you started? What is your advice for how to keep your program moving forward and meaningful?

You will probably be pleasantly surprised about how excited your in-house legal team will be about launching a pro bono program — particularly those who came from large law firms. That will provide a lot of energy to drive the program. To ensure success, you will need to make it clear that the program has the personal support of the GC and senior leaders in the company. PBI’s Corporate Pro Bono project has also provided ongoing assistance, sharing resources and best practices. From the start of our program their guidance has been valuable to our efforts. With that support and enough time and hard work, the program will have the kind of impact that you want.


Thank you Greg and the PNC team for sharing your insights into the program! We applaud your collective good work in expanding pro bono in all of your offices.

Want to attend the lunch honoring PNC? Contact Danny Reed, Director of Development, at 202.729.6691 or for details.

** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory

Toast Justice Ginsburg on February 22

PBI is honored to present the inaugural Esther F. Lardent Hall of Fame for Excellence in Pro Bono Award to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Ginsburg is a deeply deserving recipient of the award for her decades of work to improve access to justice and pave the way for equal treatment for all people under the law. The Justice has also been a tireless advocate for increasing pro bono participation and support for legal aid services.

Justice Ginsburg has tenaciously pursued equal justice throughout her career. Her own experiences of gender discrimination during law school and as a young lawyer strengthened her resolve to break down barriers for women through the legal system. From her early years in academia as one of very few female professors to her time at the American Civil Liberties Union where she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project, to her decision, which influenced the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Justice Ginsburg has made incredible strides for gender equality.

She has also been a tireless advocate for increasing pro bono participation and support for legal services. While addressing the pro bono community, she once said: “without government prodding, you have taken the initiative to serve those without the wherewithal to pay for legal assistance. Your compensation is not monetary, but the large satisfaction one gains from helping to repair tears in society, making people’s lot a little better because of one’s aid.”

The Esther F. Lardent Hall of Fame for Excellence in Pro Bono was established in 2016, in memory of PBI’s founding president, to recognize individuals and organizations that have shown an extraordinary commitment to pro bono and have made a profound impact on advancing the aspirational goal of access to justice for all. Lardent’s 45-year legal career was dedicated to fighting for civil rights and equal protection under the law, during which she pioneered creative approaches to tackling access to justice issues. One innovation was the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, which has since become the gold standard for measuring law firm pro bono engagement among large firms.

Those recognized with the Hall of Fame Award have demonstrated a significant commitment to pro bono over a substantial period of time, demonstrated exemplary leadership promoting access to justice, or served as a thought leader and inspiration to the legal profession. Justice Ginsburg’s dedication to increasing access to justice and fighting gender discrimination is legendary and spans decades.

PBI will host a reception at which Justice Ginsburg will be honored, including a fireside chat with the Justice, on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts during the 2018 PBI Annual Conference. 

Start Me Up

CPBO Director Tammy Sun answered some of our in-house pro bono community’s questions about the “Getting Started Series,” which launches in March.

So, CPBO launched a new program called the “Getting Started Series”? What is it?

We created the Getting Started Series as a unique way for in-house counsel starting up a pro bono program to join colleagues from other legal departments for roundtable discussions by phone that we will facilitate. Every two weeks, participants will join a conference call to learn about key topics essential to building a pro bono program. We’ll have guest experts and many experienced in-house pro bono leaders to provide diverse viewpoints and best practices for all types of legal departments.  The format will be informal and allow participants to share ideas, work through challenges, and build a network of trusted peers for support.

Why did CPBO create the series and why now?

Every year, at the PBI Annual Conference we hold a roundtable discussion among in-house counsel who are starting their pro bono programs. It’s wildly popular. Conference attendees always tell us how much they love the opportunity to learn from each other and make connections with people going through the same process. CPBO designed the Getting Started Series to replicate and expand this experience for in-house counsel outside the Conference. We think it will create the opportunity for deeper connections. It’s almost like a support group for leaders of new pro bono programs!

Who will benefit most from participating in the series?

The series is right for any in-house counsel or legal professional charged with starting and launching a pro bono program for their department and all other members of the department interested in pro bono. We will cover the key aspects of launching and running a pro bono program, including: structuring a program, insurance, project selection, partnerships, multijurisdictional practice, and communications.

The $875 fee includes eight sessions, which breaks down to a little over $100 per session. That one fee covers all members of a department who want to participate, which is a great value when you consider that most webinar or workshop fees are per participant. Our aim is to build capacity and expertise within a department – that’s really boosted when more than one person can participate in the series.  Plus, those who attend the 2018 PBI Conference or are members of the Association of Corporate Counsel also receive a discounted rate. 

What sets the series apart from other webinars or publications about how to launch a pro bono program?

It will be highly interactive which isn’t possible with more traditional formats. Participants will learn and support each other as they move through the process of launching a pro bono program. Quite often, as departments are starting a program, in-house counsel lose steam. Through regularly-scheduled roundtable discussions, participants will keep on track and move forward together. It’s our hope and expectation that the group of participants will continue to support and be a resource for each other during and even beyond the series.

Suburban Pro Bono: Yes, It's a Thing

Anne Geraghty Helms of DLA Piper* shares the following story from the firm’s pro bono program that subverts the popular notion that all (or most) pro bono clients live in cities. Contrary to that assumption, estimates indicate that one in three poor Americans live in the suburbs. In planning for next month’s 2018 PBI Annual Conference, our staff created a session with Annie that will explore what the pro bono community is doing to meet this rising and unmet demand for legal services.

Pro Bono Collaboration Supports Survivors of Domestic Violence
By Anne Geraghty Helms, Director & Counsel, US Pro Bono Programs, DLA Piper

For survivors of domestic violence, walking into a courthouse to seek an order of protection can be a confusing, overwhelming, and frightening experience.

And that is precisely why having a lawyer can make all the difference.

Recently, while volunteering at the Rolling Meadows Domestic Violence Help Desk—a collaborative pro bono program established by Allstate**, Between Friends, Discover**, DLA Piper, Illinois Tool Works, and LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago)—I assisted a survivor who told me that this was not her first time at the courthouse. She had attempted to seek an order of protection before, but left when she was handed a stack of paperwork that asked questions like whether she wanted “exclusive possession of the residence” and “supervised visitation” for her children. No one had been there to explain to her what these terms meant, to tell her what the effect of obtaining a protective order was, or what the process would look like.

So she went back home.

Thanks to the Rolling Meadows Help Desk, her second experience at the courthouse was markedly different. She had someone there to explain the process. To help her decipher and fill out the paperwork. To help her draft an affidavit describing why she needed a protective order. To walk her to the clerk’s office and to the sheriff’s office and to the courtroom where she presented her case to a judge. To explain what would come next.

After visiting the help desk, she once again returned home. But this time, it was with a police escort who stayed long enough so that her husband could pack a bag and leave.

Needless to say, I am extremely proud of the Rolling Meadows Help Desk. (I also had the opportunity to brag about the program during a PBI Pro Bono Happy Hour Podcast in February 2017). The Help Desk, which was established just over a year ago, is a truly collaborative effort, born both out of client need and out of the inspiring commitment of several lawyers who wanted to make a difference.

Rolling Meadows Courthouse is in a suburb about 25 miles outside of downtown Chicago. The courthouse serves over two dozen cities and villages in Suburban Cook County and happens to be near several of Chicago’s large corporate headquarters – including Allstate, Discover, and Illinois Tool Works – where many lawyers practice. Housed in the basement of the courthouse is a wonderful agency called Between Friends staffed by committed advocates who help as many survivors of domestic violence as they can. But it’s a small organization, and staff members must close the office doors for several hours a week to attend court or meetings.

The Help Desk was created when a group of lawyers at Allstate, Discover, DLA Piper, and Illinois Tool Works came together to help Between Friends meet the need during those times when staff members were not available to help survivors. With the expert training and support of LAF, the largest provider of free civil legal services to low-income residents in Cook County, lawyers from each of the partner organizations now regularly staff 4-hour shifts in the Between Friends office, helping victims fill out paperwork, explaining the court process, and ensuring that no survivor goes through the process of obtaining a protective order alone.

Volunteering at the Help Desk can be exhausting. The process of helping a single victim can take hours. And it requires the volunteer to draw out intensely personal details of their clients’ lives. Every time I go there, it makes me wonder why we cannot make this process more straightforward for victims. Why does the paperwork have to be so repetitive and confusing? Why do different agencies in the courthouse have to sit in different silos, forcing the victim to visit the clerk, the sheriff, the court, and then often the sheriff again?

Tackling these systemic challenges may (and should) come next. But in the meantime, I am so inspired by and grateful for the many lawyers who have partnered with us to launch and staff the Help Desk.

Anne Geraghty Helms is Director and Counsel for US Pro Bono Programs at DLA Piper. She was recently named to the Crain’s Chicago Business “Most Influential Lawyers in Chicago” list in recognition of the impact her commitment to pro bono has had on the community and the legal profession.


PBI’s staff would like to thank Anne and DLA Piper for allowing us to share this story in The Wire for our readers’ benefit. Thank you for sharing your excellent pro bono project with us all!

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member