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June/July 2019

Partners With a Purpose

Pro bono legal work is frequently done in partnership. Many in-house legal departments, law firms, and public interest organizations work together to tackle today’s access to justice issues and create sustainable pro bono projects that help the underrepresented. Each year, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) presents the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Awards to honor and celebrate in-house legal department partnerships with firms and/or public interest organizations. These thoughtful and sustained relationships address critical legal needs and serve vulnerable populations.

CPBO’s Partner Awards are presented to a partnership that includes at least one legal department with 50 or more lawyers (Large Law) and/or a partnership that includes legal departments with 49 or fewer lawyers (Small Law). This year, CPBO will present the Pro Bono Partner Award in the Large Law category to Exxon Mobil Corporation (ExxonMobil) in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston (Catholic Charities). The award in the Small Law category will be presented to Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company (Sikorksy), in partnership with Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) and Teamsters Local 1150.


Inspired by the example of Founder John D. Rockefeller, ExxonMobil has maintained a systemic commitment to philanthropy and pro bono work throughout its existence. ExxonMobil lawyers and staff have performed pro bono service in Houston and other communities as part of a well-established program since the mid-1990s. The partnership between ExxonMobil and Catholic Charities has served as a means of bridging the gap in legal services for more than eight years.

Together, ExxonMobil and Catholic Charities have provided hundreds of individuals with immigration legal advice and representation on issues ranging from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), citizenship, and adjustment of status for refugees, asylees, and Cubans.

ExxonMobil has widened the net of those providing pro bono legal support to Catholic Charities by engaging more than 100 lawyers and 40 support staff in this pro bono partnership, including retiree lawyers. Staff attorneys from Catholic Charities work with and train ExxonMobil attorneys to assist clients seeking asylum and/or with citizenship applications. In the last six years, ExxonMobil and Catholic Charities have helped more than 540 clients complete and file their citizenship applications.

The ExxonMobil-Catholic Charities partnership has developed innovative service models, including a large-scale workshop model for DACA to serve more than 100 clients and a unique adjustment of status workshop. ExxonMobil has also introduced new partners to support Catholic Charities’ mission, allowing for direct representation for additional cases pertaining to those applying for legal permanent residency.


Addressing the needs of veterans facing homelessness and mental health issues, Sikorsky’s Legal Department and Teamsters Local 1150 have developed a sustained and unique partnership with Connecticut Veterans Legal Center to support CVLC’s pro bono legal work and advocate for the increased recognition of veterans’ unmet legal and social service needs in Connecticut.

In 2009, Sikorsky became one of the first pro bono partners to support CVLC’s groundbreaking medical-legal partnership model to integrate legal services on-site at VA mental health facilities. Recognizing the importance of this holistic model in helping veterans stabilize their lives, Sikorsky attorneys took extra measures to provide pro bono legal assistance in the early days of the program, often traveling a long distance to meet with veterans who were receiving medical care at the VA. Over the years, Sikorsky’s legal department has provided a variety of pro bono services, including assisting veterans facing eviction as well as seeking to overcome barriers to affordable housing and employment.

CVLC’s “Pro Bono Service Pledge Program” engages members of Sikorsky’s legal department to assist veterans in gaining access to their VA benefits. The program empowers attorneys with the legal knowledge and skills to assist veterans with their claims. Because of Sikorsky’s involvement, CVLC has been able to replicate this program in other corporate legal departments to grow CVLC’s pro bono program.

To increase awareness and volunteer engagement, Sikorsky’s Legal Department collaborated with Teamsters Local 1150 to institute the annual “Homerun for Heroes” program, which honors and recognizes military veterans at a minor league baseball game. The event shines a statewide spotlight on veterans’ legal issues and raises funds to support veteran-related programs throughout Connecticut, including CVLC’s legal services and pro bono program. Sikorsky and Teamsters Local 1150 have donated more than 200 hours of their time to organize and plan the annual event. Additionally, Sikorsky and Teamsters Local 1150 have volunteered their time to fundraise on behalf of Connecticut nonprofits providing vital services to veterans, including Columbus House-Harkness House, Connecticut Fallen Heroes, Homes for the Brave – Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, and CVLC.

To honor our awardees and their remarkable pro bono programs, join us at PBI’s Annual Dinner on October 10 at Gotham Hall in New York City and celebrate lives changed through pro bono service. For more information about PBI’s Dinner, please contact Danny Reed, Director of Development, at 202.729.6691 or

Access to Justice — Philly Style

Last month, PBI wrote about the Philadelphia Equal Justice Center (EJC), a planned nonprofit, social-purpose center designed to house civil legal aid and social services organizations under one roof. We spoke with Jessica Hilburn-Holmes, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation which is spearheading the EJC, about the history of the project, what makes Philadelphia right for this model, and more.

PBI: Tell us a bit about the origin of the EJC.

Jessica Hilburn-Holmes: As a nation, we are facing an enormous justice gap. Because of Philadelphia’s leadership, progress is being made on the criminal justice side. However, there is still a gap on the civil side. In a city where a quarter of the population lives in poverty, and 80 percent of low-income residents are navigating high-stakes legal situations on their own, there is no question that it is critical that we expand access to legal services for all individuals. The Equal Justice Center project is the product of years of collaborative planning. The Philadelphia Bar Foundation has been considering a plan to co-locate the city’s legal aid agencies for decades. While the EJC is a product of input from the legal aid community as a whole, the Bar Foundation initiated discussions in 2012 and solidified the current plan to co-locate some of the largest legal aid agencies into one central location.

The availability of a suitable building site for the EJC jump-started the project. In 2017, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) awarded the Bar Foundation the right to develop the EJC on a site at 8th and Race Streets. In a competitive bidding process, the PRA selected the EJC for development based on its social and economic impact on legal aid organizations and the Philadelphia community.

What makes Philadelphia the right place to be the test case for this one-stop-shop legal aid model?

In becoming the first World Heritage City in the U.S. in 2015, Philadelphia was acknowledged for being a city of ideas and innovation in every period of its history. To us, that signaled it is time for Philadelphia to lead the access to justice revolution and establish an equal justice center. Philadelphia is perfectly situated for the EJC model, as the public interest community in our city has a long-established history of collaboration through the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee (DLSC). The DLSC was formed in 1977 as part of the Association’s public interest effort to identify, and provide for, the civil legal needs of the most vulnerable members of the Philadelphia community. This extraordinary committee has been meeting monthly for more than 40 years to address legal needs in Philadelphia.

How were the original tenants selected?

Originally, we discussed the EJC project with more than 20 tenant prospects. However, some had either recently invested resources into their current office space or needed to remain embedded in specific neighborhoods. These discussions ultimately culminated in memoranda of understanding with the 12 inaugural tenants.

What are the benefits for our key stakeholders: law firm and in-house attorneys? 

The legal aid organizations moving into the EJC currently offer many pro bono volunteer opportunities for the legal community. Co-locating legal aid organizations into one building will allow the agencies to deliver more client-centered services, distribute more resources toward providing those services, and will create cooperative interactions and other efficiencies among the participating organizations.

For lawyers and firms interested in pro bono work, the EJC will be a central location that suits a variety of pro bono interests and needs. The EJC will provide a space for collaboration between for-profit lawyers, law firms, and law schools seeking public interest and legal aid opportunities.

For those attorneys working on pro bono advocacy efforts, the EJC will help promote a powerful, unified voice on issues that reach beyond both city and state lines, to affect change at the national level.

The EJC will have large conference spaces that will be used to host clinics, training, and community events. The center will allow all legal aid organizations in the Philadelphia region to more easily access a large, accessible space dedicated to serving their needs. Because of this, we hope that they will be able to host community education events above their current capacity. Law firms and law schools may also aspire to host programs at the EJC.

In coordination with Jenkins Law Library, law school clinical programs, and various self-help resource centers that already exist in courts across the city, the EJC will have a dedicated Pro Se Litigant Center for individuals to research issues and attend educational sessions on matters relating to a wide range of civil legal issues.

Have you built in any assessments or measures of success? 

Nonprofit legal aid agencies across the city are consistently looking to improve client intake. Improving the intake process will greatly affect the services delivered and the satisfaction of those receiving services. The success of the intake and referral system will be measured by its ability to introduce clients to necessary organizations and resources from which they may not have benefited if not for the unique co-location model and referral network provided by the EJC. In 2018, expert technologists began analysis of the existing multiple client intake systems and exploring ways to integrate them, including referral delivery and conflicts checks. Unified intake will increase the current capacity and systems, implement best practices for intake, maximize efficiencies created through integration, and identify trends and gaps in the delivery of services. Risks and challenges associated with intake – conflicts, confidentiality, and applicant safety, for example – will be minimized.

We have estimated that more than 30,000 clients annually will be served at the EJC, which includes an anticipated increase of 2,500 clients due to improved capacity. We have assumed that member tenants will each increase their number of clients served by five percent, that the EJC staff will serve an additional 100 clients per month, and that the resources for self-represented litigants will serve an additional 10 clients per month.

We have also estimated that co-location will reduce the operational costs of the EJC member tenants by as much as 20 percent, allowing members to focus more resources on the provision of services to clients. These savings will come from increased administrative efficiency; group purchasing; shared infrastructure such as copiers, phone service, and internet; and shared back-office operations, such as accounting, IT, and HR.

Processes for monitoring and measuring these metrics will be established as the project development moves forward.

Is there one champion that drove this process?

While the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is spearheading the EJC, there are many champions supporting the project’s development. Members of leadership include:

  • Kenneth Frazier is the Chairman and CEO of Merck & Co**. Frazier has increased Merck’s investment in research while refocusing the organization on the launch and growth of key products that provide benefit to society. He has also led the formation of philanthropic and other initiatives at Merck.
  • David L. Cohen is Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation**. Cohen has received numerous awards for his civic and charitable activities.
  • Robert Heim, former Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and founder of its Public Interest Section, is a nationally known trial lawyer and partner at Dechert*.
  • Leslie Anne Miller is a prominent Philadelphia attorney who has been actively involved in her profession and community.
  • Edward Chacker is Senior Managing Partner and Chair of the Gay & Chacker law firm and is widely recognized as one of the leading trial lawyers in Pennsylvania. Chacker has been recognized with honors and awards for his legal representation of individuals and for his pro bono work for the public.
  • Deborah Willig is one of the top Employment & Labor attorneys in Philadelphia and is the Managing Partner of Willig, Williams & Davidson. Willig was the first woman Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
  • Deborah Gross is the EJC’s Capital Campaign Committee Chair. Gross also serves on the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Board as Assistant Treasurer and served as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association in 2017.
  • Leslie E. John currently serves as the Philadelphia Bar Foundation Board President and is closely involved with all activities of the Equal Justice Center project. John is the Practice Leader of Ballard Spahr’s*† Antitrust Group and has represented clients in federal and state courts and has substantial class action experience.

Thanks to Jessica Hilburn-Holmes and the Equal Justice Center team for providing more information about this trailblazing project.

The 2018 Law Firm Challenge Report: 5 Million Hours & Counting

The 2018 PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Report is out and it was another steady year for pro bono programs. The Challenge Report examines the pro bono performance of firms that are signatories to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge initiative during the 2018 calendar year. Signatories have committed to contribute 3 or 5 percent of their annual billable hours (or, at a few firms, 60 or 100 hours per attorney) to pro bono activities as defined by the Challenge, and report their performance to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project each year.

Firms reported performing a total of 5,070,533 hours of pro bono work in 2018 – an increase over 2017. This is the first time signatories have collectively exceeded the 5 million hours mark since the implementation of the Challenge in 1995.

The participation rate of attorneys remained steady in 2018. The percentage of partners participating in pro bono was 67.4 percent, compared to 68.1 percent in 2017. Additionally, the percentage of associates participating in pro bono was 85.1 percent, compared to 85.6 percent in 2017. In 2018, firms reported 68 percent of all pro bono time was devoted to those limited means and organizations serving them.

Fast Facts

Challenge goals that were met or exceeded in 2018:

  • The 5 million hours of pro bono work represents an all-time high, eclipsing previous bests of 4.9 million in 2009 and 2017.
  • The percentage of partners engaging in pro bono was 67.4 percent and participation of associates was 85.1 percent. Combined attorney participation was 76.5 percent overall.
  • Pro bono hours as a percentage of total paying client billable hours remained strong, at 3.8 percent in 2018.

We thank and congratulate the Challenge signatories whose commitment to pro bono is positively reflected in this Report, and we look forward to a renewed and expanded level of commitment in 2019! Read the full report. Interested in your firm becoming a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge signatory? Find out how.

Protecting Disability Rights (Pro Bono in Practice)

How can pro bono attorneys partner with disability rights advocates to ensure that people with disabilities can live, work, and learn in the communities of their choice, free from discrimination?

Protecting Disability Rights (Pro Bono in Practice), adapted from a popular session at PBI’s 2019 Annual Conference, presents a unique opportunity to learn more about the field of disability rights law and how it might intersect with other specialties, including areas such as education, criminal justice, and health care. This session will be presented on July 30 at 12:30 PM (EDT).

Two experts from national disability rights organizations, Maura Klugman, senior staff attorney, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and Shira Wakschlag, director of legal advocacy and associate general counsel, The Arc, will provide an overview of the disability rights movement with an emphasis on deinstitutionalization, discuss examples of recent cutting-edge disability civil rights litigation, and review opportunities for successful pro bono engagement.

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