Pro Bono Services Remain Consistent Despite Recession
Even with increased demands on their time, corporate law departments and their law firms are willing to make time to do pro bono work, according to a panel at the American Bar Association Business Law Section 2010 Spring Meeting in Denver on April 23.
Speaking during the Pro Bono Committee breakfast, panelists noted that lawyers in their organizations were providing a consistent level of service while the need for pro bono work has grown.
Kathleen McLeroy, who is a partner with Carlton Fields in Tampa and chair of the Business Law Section Pro Bono Committee, moderated the panel, “Pro Bono for Business Lawyers: Is There Life After a Recession?”
Panelist Christine Searls, associate general counsel with Qwest Communications in Denver, spoke about how her company actively supports its commitment by offering a variety of opportunities as well an in-house training for staff lawyers. “We are part of the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge,” she said. “It seemed like a natural progress.”
Searls noted that while in-house lawyers do not track their hours as firm lawyers do, all lawyers are taking on more work to save on outside fees. “I thought that we would deliver fewer hours, but that’s not the case. We’re maintaining a good level of service although with the recession, the needs are so much greater.”
Peter H. Schwartz, a partner with the Denver office of Davis Graham & Stubbs, said he believes doing pro bono work can make better lawyers. Schwartz oversees the Colorado Lawyers Nonprofit Working Group that matches needs of organization with volunteer lawyers. The Working Group is a listserv that links nearly 800 nonprofits with approximately 80 law firms or lawyers,
“It’s a little like Match.com. I make the match, but don’t hear the details. Sometimes I hear back, sometimes not,” said Schwartz. Since May, he reports, the listserv has resulted in lawyer placements at 35 projects.
His firm participates in Colorado Access to Justice, a project that asks for a commitment of 50 hours of service from each lawyer. “Here in Denver, it’s a small place where people are passionate about using their skills in a way that’s bigger than they are.”
Panelist Kelly G. Reynoldson, a partner with the Denver office of Kutak Rock, actively participates in her firm’s pro bono efforts. She said that she expects the commitment to pro bono work to continue even after the recession. “I see a passion now and I think that passion will remain when the economy picks up.
Her own passion is for Friendship Bridge, an organization that makes $50, $100 and $200 loans to women in Guatemala who want to start their own businesses. A board member, she reports that the loans have a 98 percent repayment rate and women in the village serve as guarantors for the loans made. For these women, she says, the recession has not had an impact.
For her firm, Reynoldson says pro bono service is such an important part of the culture that they continue to provide internal training and support pro bono work by lawyers and staff. “Doing things like the [pro bono] not only makes you a better lawyer but a better person.”
Learn more on the Business Law Section Pro Bono Committee website.