Often when someone unfamiliar with the topic hears about in-house pro bono and Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) — the global partnership project of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and the Pro Bono Institute (PBI) — the first question they ask is: What kind of pro bono legal services do in-house counsel provide? Or, if they are new in-house counsel, they may ask: How can I help?
The options run the gamut in terms of clients, area of law, type of case, and level of time commitment. There are many finite, scheduled opportunities, such telephone hotlines and clinics, as well as a slew of longer-term projects, including representing individuals in court, engaging in policy advocacy, serving as ongoing outside counsel for nonprofits or small businesses, and conducting legal research projects. Two examples that exemplify the range of pro bono work being performed by in-house counsel are the Online LGBT Tax Resource, created by BNY Mellon with White & Case and the National LGBT Bar Association; and the work of Best Buy attorneys at the Volunteer Lawyers Network’s Housing Court Project and Conciliation Court Clinic.
Desktop Research Project Leveraging Technology to Assist Thousands
BNY Mellon, joined with White & Case and the National LGBT Bar Association to create the Online LGBT Tax Resource, a comprehensive tax guide for LGBT couples. During 2014, the partnership’s first year, 34 attorneys (including 14 from BNY Mellon) researched state codes, administrative guidance and case law; drafted clear summaries and explanations of the tax law in each jurisdiction; and compiled direct links to relevant law, forms and instructions — all from the comfort of their desks and at the convenience of their schedules. The results have given tax payers and preparers the most complete state-by-state information ever available for LGBT families.
The need for pro bono assistance is so great and the opportunities are so plentiful that selecting projects can be daunting. It involves balancing the interests and concerns of your company, department and legal staff, with the needs of the communities.
Due to rapidly evolving laws, the partners have updated the resource twice a year since the site was launched and plan to do so again to reflect guidance issued by states in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. This is a great example of how several dozen in-house and law firm attorneys, leveraging technology, can benefit thousands of legal service consumers.
Repeat Staffing at Court-Based Clinics Helps Hundreds, One Person at a Time
Since 2004, Best Buy attorneys have given their time for a number of Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN)’s pro bono opportunities, including the Housing Court Project and Conciliation Court Clinic. For many years, two attorneys staffed the Housing Court Project each month, working alongside a Legal Aid attorney to prepare low-income tenants to appear in court, present their defense, and explain their situation. In addition, in at least 39 of 52 weeks per year, Best Buy attorneys met with low-income clients, helping them with conciliation court matters, such as wage disputes and credit issues. Services include assisting with the completion of court forms, drafting letters and making calls.
Due to the significant expertise Best Buy attorneys have honed over the years, VLN routinely refers the most difficult cases to the clinics where Best Buy lawyers will be present. By helping one client at a time and committing to a few hours once a month, VLN has changed the lives of hundreds of people over time.
How to Choose
The need for pro bono assistance is so great and the opportunities are so plentiful that selecting projects can be daunting. It involves balancing the interests and concerns of your company, department and legal staff, with the needs of the communities. Knowing what opportunities are available certainly helps. In addition to considering the examples featured above, you can read about many more in CPBO’s in-house pro bono in practice profiles.