Lawyers in the United States have a long-standing commitment to providing pro bono service, and leading law firms actively encourage this provision of legal services to those who might not otherwise have access to representation.
Aside from providing legal services to those in need, many firms also encourage community service on the part of lawyers and staff.
Denver-based law and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck takes its commitment to giving back to a new level on several fronts: It not only inspires its own employees to serve, but also facilitates ways for their clients to do the same, driving greater collaboration and ultimately, stronger relationships with clients. Giving back is also one of the firm’s four core values: All In, Excellence, Respect and Giving Back.
For more than a decade, Brownstein has coordinated what it calls “Karma Events” – efforts to identify a cause and engage their employees as well as their clients’ in-house legal teams to provide community services. “Through our Karma Events, we’re able to get our lawyers, policy professionals and staff involved in community service projects, and offer our clients
the opportunity to participate in the causes we’re supporting – and at the same time, strengthening our relationships,” says Brownstein’s Chief Culture and Communications Officer Lara Day.
Each of the firm’s 11 offices is empowered to independently identify causes it wants to support. The Las Vegas office, for example, has adopted a local elementary school. “Karma Events are intended to engage our people at all levels across the firm,” Day continues. Some events are annual staples, such as creating Valentine’s Day cards for local senior centers and children’s hospitals, or writing letters to veterans to recognize their service on Veterans Day. Other causes are selected by the firm’s community relations manager or volunteer Karma leads and have garnered strong support.
“The causes we adopt come from suggestions from within the firm as people bring forward ideas and opportunities to assist with causes that they personally support,” says Day. “This really drives ownership of the cause because it’s people pursuing their passions.” The firm hosts regular lunchtime sessions where all employees can learn about different opportunities to give back to the community. “We have a variety of events happening across the firm, and these lunch events are a great way for our people to find new opportunities to give back,” she adds.
When partnering with clients on community services projects, Brownstein asks for no financial commitment to secure participation, and the firm has found that getting clients engaged in these events is an easy ask. “When we can, we make it a family event,” says Rich Benenson, the firm’s managing partner. “They bring their kids, we bring ours, it gives us a chance to do good while building much stronger relationships.”
In addition to positive feedback from clients, the firm also regularly receives glowing reviews from employees, laterals and recruits who are impressed by the firm’s commitment to giving back.
Pro Bono Program
The spirit of giving back permeates into the firm’s legal services as well – their pro bono legal services efforts were recently ranked #63 in The American Lawyer’s 2019 National Pro Bono Rankings and #41 in its ranking by breadth of commitment.
Martha Fitzgerald, a full-time litigator who manages the firm’s pro bono program, stresses that every lawyer at the firm is expected to provide at least 50 hours per year to pro bono service, a standard encouraged by not only the American Bar Association but also the Colorado Supreme Court through its Rules of Professional Conduct. In 2018, the firm committed more than 10,500 hours to pro bono work, with hours being performed by not only the attorneys at the firm, but by its policy professionals as well. That same year, the firm dedicated 50 or more hours of pro bono time to 44 individuals and organizations, showing a wide commitment to a variety of causes and reinforcing the firm’s commitment to let its people pursue their passions.
When partnering with clients on community services projects, Brownstein asks for no financial commitment to secure participation, and the firm has found that getting clients engaged in these events is an easy ask.
These pro bono efforts were spread across some 18 different pro bono working teams, in areas of practice ranging from appellate work, the arts, civil rights, clinics for the indigent and federal pro se litigants, eviction, hunger and children’s issues, healthcare, service to active military and veterans, immigration and asylum. Each team includes not only lawyers but also policy professionals, paralegals and office staff; and each is headed by a subject matter expert who can supervise and train team members.
“Our goal at Brownstein is to provide lawyers opportunities to serve in ways that are personally meaningful to them,” notes Fitzgerald. “Whether helping an indigent mother avoid an unlawful eviction, preparing amicus briefs on important issues, protecting religious entities from persecution or forming nonprofits that provide essential services to the under-represented populations, we offer many avenues for lawyers to give back in important ways.”
Clients are not only supportive of Brownstein’s commitments to service, but often ask to participate in projects in firm-client collaborations. Indeed, this aspect of collaborative client/firm pro bono and community service partnerships is what is perhaps the most unique aspect of Brownstein’s access to justice efforts. By incorporating not only the firm’s resources but also those of its clients, these efforts can provide a wider impact and more enriching results. Using the pro bono efforts as an example, the collaboration between the firm and its clients not only produces top-level legal outcomes for the individual and entities served, it creates an opportunity for the firm and its clients to collaborate on staffing matters creatively to ensure the best minds are working on the matter while also fostering relationships between lawyers who might not otherwise have interacted.
Driving engagement with clients helps the firm reinforce its emphasis on responsible corporate community citizenship, while giving clients the opportunity to do the same. In an age where responsible corporate citizenship is an increasingly important part of nearly every business’s pro bono strategy, law firms like Brownstein who can create opportunities that not only enhance their own citizenship but bring their clients along in a meaningful way as well, will set a strong example for others to follow.