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Pro Bono Perspective and Prospective

December 2010
Mayer Brown Newsletter

I have been co-chair of Mayer Brown’s firmwide pro bono committee for the past three years. At the end of 2010 I will be stepping down from this role and retiring as a partner.  I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the program’s considerable accomplishments over the past three years and my own plans to remain involved in pro bono work.

In 2008 and 2009, the firm met its pledge to devote to pro bono work 3 percent of its total US billable time, and we are on track to do so again in 2010.  We have increased the variety of transactional pro bono work we are doing while also developing more “bitesize” opportunities that allow our young lawyers to have meaningful learning experiences without the need to bill massive numbers of hours to pro bono.  The QDRO project (which was started by the Chicago ERISA group and has now spread to Palo Alto) and the Chicago misdemeanor trial project are both good examples of this.  

As the firm has continued to expand, our committee has worked to broaden our international reach by increasing pro bono activities in Europe, where pro bono is not yet part of the culture,  and by helping to get a pro bono program and local committee in Asia up and running.  We have also begun to do the same in South America. 

Behind the scenes, the committee has also grappled with a number of procedural issues designed to make the intake of pro bono work less cumbersome and to make sure that our pro bono program does not get in the way of our for-profit business.  (If we were not a highly successful business venture, we would not be doing pro bono at all.)  One good example of this was our work with the Wealth Management practice to develop guidelines on how to balance our desires to work for large NGOs as both paying and pro bono clients.

Replacing me on the firmwide committee is Buz Craven, who will be working with my current co-chair Adrian Steel. I’m sure that they, together with the continued great work of Marc Kadish, Julie Dickins, and Marcia Maack, and the continued support of firm management, will ensure that the firm’s pro bono program continues to thrive and even improve on our efforts of the past three years.

So, what does the future hold for me besides more travel, golf, and Cubs games? That’s easy: More pro bono.

Over the past three years, I have devoted substantial efforts to developing the firm’s international rule of law initiative.  In the spring of 2010, Marc and I taught trial advocacy in Cambodia.  This past November, I visited Iraq to teach a more elaborate trial advocacy course.  The firm recognizes the value of this work and, as part of my new role as a senior counsel, I want to increase what we collectively and I personally do.

Mayer Brown aspires to be one of the premier global law firms.  To achieve that goal, the firm must, among other things, have a global pro bono platform; one that can help underdeveloped countries to move from poverty to prosperity and to recognize the rights of all their citizens.  We can do that by helping them become societies that are governed by a rule of law.  This is important, among the basic humanitarian reasons, because major companies will not invest in third-world countries if those countries do not have commercially sound laws, do not enforce contracts or copyrights, and do not have consistent and trustworthy court systems. 

Teaching lawyers and others trial advocacy skills, and working with lawmakers on progressive legislation, are important ways to help foster a rule of law culture.  Doing this is good for our business, too: It enhances our reputation as a global law firm and opens up new markets for our clients.  And, along the way, we push, sometimes subtly, sometimes directly, for increased human rights, gender equity, and anti-discrimination.

Starting in January, I plan to continue working to find these opportunities both for me and for others at the firm who are interested in doing this type of work.  I hope many of you will join me.

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