A Legal Department That Goes The Extra Mile - Boehringer Ingelheim

Friday, August 1, 2008 - 01:00

Community service and involvement are vital ingredients of the culture at Boehringer Ingelheim, the world's largest privately owned pharmaceutical company. With Boehringer's U.S. headquarters in Ridgefield Connecticut, the company considers itself a member of the tri-state area - especially since the majority of its workforce lives in communities in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Therefore, when creating a community-centric pro bono program that would facilitate the participation of all Law Department members, a broad focus was required - and a broad focus has enabled the program to grow year by year. Through the assistance of Rick Hobish and Maurice Segall of the Pro Bono Partnership, Boehringer Ingelheim began its program over five years ago. The partnership between the Boehringer Ingelheim Legal Department and the Partnership continues to be instrumental in identifying a broad range of pro bono opportunities and in helping Boehringer Ingelheim fulfill a number of its pro bono goals.

Historically, pro bono work has been driven by law firms, but Boehringer Ingelheim, along with many of its corporate colleagues, sees the value programs like these have for the Company, its employees and its surrounding community. At Boehringer Ingelheim, the structured pro bono program has the full support from the leadership team. With a manager's approval, any employee from the Legal Department (which includes Compliance, Environmental Health and Safety and Information Management professionals, in addition to a cadre of talented lawyers, paraprofessionals and assistants) can use office hours to work on pro bono cases and projects.

Since the start of the year, approximately 30 percent of Boehringer Ingelheim's Legal Department has participated in its program. Participation takes many forms, ranging from individually providing advice and services to not-for-profit entities, to partnering with Boehringer's preferred law firm providers, including Reed Smith, Baker & McKenzie and Jackson Lewis. These firms have also been providing educational opportunities for Boehringer Ingelheim's staff and have identified additional pro bono opportunities.

This year, Bruce Banks, Associate General Counsel and coordinator of the program, conducted a survey to determine the individual interests of Boehringer Ingelheim's entire legal staff, including lawyers, paralegals and administrators. After working on over 60 different legal matters for over 40 nonprofits, he was keen to determine if the team was focusing on work in which they were truly interested. Banks will use that information to notify the team about opportunities that match their interests. "We want to provide our employees with the opportunity to expand on their experiences and develop their interests in other areas of the law," says Banks. "At the same time we are re-interpreting the scope of pro bono to include other legal/regulatory-related matters, including providing advice on record retention issues, regulation involving the handling of hazardous wastes in school chemistry labs, serving as moot court judges and participating in civics classes. Our program allows more people, who may not be lawyers, to participate, and it broadens our reach. Recently two of our attorneys worked on revising employment policies and procedures for a Connecticut-based hospice; another lawyer did a complete legal review of the website and contracts for Turn Your World Around - a nonprofit organization that implements social change initiatives and helps young people."

"This program is one of the reasons I chose to come to work for Boehringer Ingelheim," says Adam Price, Associate Director and corporate counsel. "During my job search I was looking for a company and role that matched as much with my work experience as it did with my need for personal fulfillment. I get to pick and choose the pro bono opportunities on which I work which helps elevate my experiences and sense of accomplishment."

"We have always offered pro bono opportunities," says Marla Persky, General Counsel, Boehringer Ingelheim. "But now we are taking it to the next level. We are fully supporting our corporate culture by providing a great place to work while also helping others in our local communities."

Rick Hobish, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Partnership, says, "The Boehringer Ingelheim Legal Department has been at the forefront of companies with regard to pro bono efforts. This strong commitment can only happen with support from the General Counsel, and Marla has been one of the most active and enthusiastic GCs we've seen. She truly leads by example, having taken on four different pro bono projects through the Partnership herself."

Moving forward, Boehringer Ingelheim will continue to provide their Legal department employees with opportunities that interest them and are good for the community. "One of the advantages of our program is that it can grow and change over time, just as the needs of our communities change. We provide our employees with the chance to do well while doing good," Persky explained.

For more information about the Pro Bono Partnership, email info@probonopartner.org.