Connecting Lawyers to 
Pro Bono Opportunities

Friday, June 1, 2018 - 16:02

Sean Delany talks about the work being done by Lawyers Alliance for New York.

CCBJ: What is the mission of Lawyers Alliance for New York?

Sean Delany: Lawyers Alliance for New York provides business and transactional legal services for nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that are improving the quality of life in New York City. We help organizations that develop affordable housing, stimulate economic opportunity, improve urban health and education, promote community arts, and operate and advocate for vital programs that benefit low-income New Yorkers of all ages. We are also the convener of a network of business law pro bono organizations that are located in 15 cities and ­regions around the country.

Your staff and volunteer attorneys represent hundreds of nonprofit organizations on a variety of legal matters. How do you connect volunteers with nonprofits?

Each year, we work with 670 nonprofits on more than 1,200 legal matters. Our model has several key aspects that enable us to provide pro bono opportunities and support pro bono work at that scale. We’re only able to do that because we enjoy the services of more than 1,800 volunteers from more than 130 law firms and corporations.

Our model involves, first of all, client outreach. All of our staff members participate in active outreach programs to attract new clients and new projects for our pro bono network. We also educate nonprofits about their legal and compliance obligations to make sure that they attend to those obligations. We screen all the projects by personally interviewing the clients before we place them with pro bono counsel, so that those clients are ready to receive legal services. Once matters are placed, our staff lawyers co-counsel with the volunteer attorneys. The volunteers in our network are ­experts in corporate, tax, real estate, employment and other kinds of business law matters, but they may not know anything about things that are particular to the nonprofit sector – business ventures for tax-exempt organizations, financing affordable housing, political activity by tax-exempt organizations, etc. It’s the expertise on those issues that our own legal staff adds to those representations.

You recently held your Business Law & Leadership Gala. Can you tell us about this year’s honorees?

First, we recognized Marla Simpson, who is the president and executive director of Brooklyn Community Services, a nonprofit that is more than 160 years old and serves more than 20,000 Brooklyn residents each year, providing comprehensive services to those residents.

The second honoree was Horacio Gutierrez, the general counsel and vice president of Business and Legal Affairs at Spotify. He has been a champion of pro bono service for many years. Previously, for example, he was the general counsel at Microsoft, where he was heavily involved in that company’s pro bono program, and even handled a very difficult asylum case on his own. He is responsible for promoting Spotify’s corporate social responsibility programs in their legal department. They are focused on programs that help bring music to children in the public schools and promote early childhood education more generally.

Finally, we were very pleased to be able to honor Trish Walsh, who is the executive vice president and chief legal officer at Voya Financial (see sidebar). She is a long-standing proponent of public service, and particularly of pro bono and volunteer programs.

What are some of the key corporate partnerships for Lawyers Alliance?

We have made it a priority to grow our relationships with corporate legal departments, and I’m pleased to report that we have expanded those relationships significantly. In the past two years, we have worked with 28 different corporate legal departments, with 175 of those attorneys having worked on 150 separate pro bono projects. That’s about a 50 percent increase in the number of corporate legal departments with which we work over two years.

How can Lawyers Alliance help law departments that are looking to create pro bono initiatives?

We are having that conversation with more and more companies as we expand our pro bono work with in-house legal departments. A number of the companies that we’re now working with have not had a particularly active pro bono program previously, and we’re often asked how they can most effectively start such a program. That really involves, first of all, an examination of the values and interests of the company and the legal department, and what kind of capacity it has. Does it need a partner like Lawyers Alliance that can produce pro bono opportunities that are packaged in a way that is suitable for the company? For example, many companies like to begin with one-day legal clinics in which the company’s lawyers can counsel nonprofit organizations on a scheduled day – perhaps after a training program that Lawyers Alliance might offer to their lawyers. That provides a way to get their feet wet, and then they can move on from there to more intensive pro bono programs. Lawyers Alliance can help legal departments set up those pro bono programs, and we are doing so increasingly with companies here in New York. 


 

Voya’s Pro Bono Voyage

Trish Walsh, one of Lawyers Alliance’s 2018 honorees, discusses Voya Financial’s pro bono activities.

CCBJ: Congratulations on being one of the three honorees at the Lawyers Alliance 2018 Business Law & Leadership Gala. Why did Voya decide to get involved in pro bono? 

Trish Walsh: At Voya, we are committed to making a difference in the communities we serve. Each year, Voya holds an Annual ­National Day of Service, where employees participate in events supporting local nonprofits in regions where they live and work. In 2017, 59 percent of Voya’s employee population worked with nonprofit partners to build homes, mentor children and young adults, revitalize green spaces in their community and package meals for those less fortunate, among other activities.

Voya’s commitment to employee volunteerism goes beyond this annual one-day event. Full-time employees are provided with 40 hours of paid volunteer time each year. This includes Voya’s legal department, which believes that it is important for attorneys to leverage their skills to provide pro bono legal services. Our legal team has always provided pro bono services through organizations such as Lawyers Alliance in an individual capacity. Last year, we formalized these efforts by launching a pro bono program that designated an ambassador at each of Voya’s major office locations, and that helps us better capture the great work being done by our team.

What advice would you give to others looking to get involved in Lawyers Alliance or an organization like it?

I would offer several pieces of advice:

  • Provide a structure that supports and coordinates pro bono opportunities. Many in-house lawyers have the desire to provide pro bono services. By developing an in-house pro bono program, companies can encourage this work by establishing partnerships with legal services organizations and outside counsel.
  • Define metrics for your pro bono program. This provides your team with the ability to assess and celebrate success. At Voya, our corporate responsibility department has created an easy-to-use portal that allows every employee to log their volunteer hours. Voya also regularly communicates with employees about its commitment to community service and its policy that encourages participation.
  • Create opportunities for pro bono service. Arrange opportunities for pro bono work in settings where your legal team can provide services for a set period of hours to complete a specific task or provide guidance on a legal issue. Lawyers Alliance is an excellent organization to work with on these types of clinics.

Sean Delany is the executive director of Lawyers Alliance for New York. He serves as the principal spokesperson, fundraiser and manager of Lawyers Alliance’s programs and services and works with the organization’s board and staff to carry out all aspects of its operations. He can be reached at sdelany@lawyersalliance.org.

Trish Walsh is executive vice president and chief legal officer for Voya Financial Inc. She oversees all aspects of Voya’s Law, Compliance and External Affairs department, serving as an advisor to senior management and the board of directors on legal, compliance, securities and corporate governance matters. She is also responsible for corporate development and corporate audit.