Atlanta - Law Firms McKenna Long & Aldridge: A Pro Bono Commitment To Atlanta

Thursday, April 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Bradley, would you provide our readers with something of your background and experience?

Bradley: I started my legal career in 1978 working for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. After about a year and a half, I moved over to the Georgia Legal Services Program, which is the rural equivalent of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. I worked there as a staff attorney and then as a supervising attorney until September of 1981. That year I joined what was then the law firm of Long, Aldridge, Heiner, Stevens & Sumner here in Atlanta, and I have been with the firm ever since.

Editor: Please describe your litigation practice.

Bradley: It has varied over the years. When I joined the firm, the litigation department was very small. For the most part we were servicing firm transactional clients in connection with their disputes. With time, our business base has expanded and the practice has grown, both in complexity and in the magnitude of the cases. For the past ten years my practice has been heavily focused on governmental investigations, and on the civil and criminal issues that evolve from those investigations. In addition, I have been engaged in defending a number of class actions.The Litigation Department as a whole provides a very broad range of dispute resolution services.

Editor: You have also been active in McKenna Long's pro bono practice. Would you tell us about this aspect of the firm? And your role in it?

Bradley: At the time of the merger that resulted in the present McKenna Long & Aldridge firm, there was an articulated commitment on the part of the firm's leadership, from both legacy firms, with respect to participation in pro bono and civic activities by the firm's lawyers. Everyone was encouraged to engage in such activities, and the response was very enthusiastic. We carry out this work in a variety of ways, in both defined projects and as individual lawyers in discrete undertakings that reflect the lawyer's background and expertise. In Atlanta, for example, we work with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation on a number of projects, and that relationship is both ongoing and one that utilizes a considerable number of our people. On the individual side, the firm's pro bono undertakings run across the entire range of the firm's practice areas. One of the principal pro bono efforts undertaken during the past year has been the appellate work for Marcus Dixon, who was convicted of aggravated sexual assault as a statutory crime. One of our litigation partners read about this case in the papers and was prompted to volunteer to work on the appeal.A team of people volunteered to help.That is fairly typical of how these commitments are made.
Editor: The firm has a pro bono committee?

Bradley: Yes, it does. My role in the firm in the pro bono area is to serve as something of an example and to encourage and support people who desire to make a contribution, but who are not quite sure how to go about it. I attempt to provide guidance in a less formal way than the committee, but I am certainly supportive of their efforts to encourage everyone in the firm to participate in these very worthwhile activities.

Editor: Do you have a sense of how much time is devoted to pro bono activities?

Bradley: Our firm goal is to have each lawyer spend at least 50 hours a year on these activities. As is the case everywhere, many people exceed this goal; others do not reach it. On the whole, we are very pleased with the response of our people to this initiative.

Editor: How do McKenna Long's pro bono activities help the firm?

Bradley: It is our view that community involvement is critical to the success of a firm. Pro bono and civic activities get the firm's lawyers out into the community, where they meet people and enhance the firm's reputation and standing in the community. They also get to do things that they do not do within the four walls of the office. It is a learning experience, and the services they provide in a pro bono project very often influence and enrich the services they provide the clients of the firm. They are better people for having engaged in these activities; they are also better lawyers.

Meeting people in the community and working with them toward common goals contributes to the perpetuation of the firm. Not only does this activity encourage the development of relationships that might, in the future, evolve into sources of business for the firm, it projects an image of the firm that plays extremely well in the board rooms and executive offices of organizations that any law firm would like to have as clients. There are times when making a choice of law firm on the basis of legal expertise alone is difficult for a client, and then things like the firm's presence in the community, its reputation for civic and pro bono work and its alignment with the corporate citizenship goals of the client become crucial.

With respect to recruiting, a commitment to pro bono activities is absolutely essential. When we are interviewing - and this is true of lateral hiring as well as entry level hiring - we are always asked about our pro bono program. Our ability to articulate a strong commitment on this front enables us to attract the type of lawyer we all desire to work with and to represent the firm to the outside world. I am certain that this commitment also figures in to the firm's ability to retain good people.

Editor: In addition to your very full litigation practice, you volunteer your time as general counsel for Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta. For starters, would you tell us about Habitat for Humanity and its mission?

Bradley: The mission of Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta is to build affordable quality homes and to provide support services that promote successful home purchase and ownership, all in partnership with low income working families, communities and housing sponsors. Atlanta Habitat is the largest single family home builder inside Atlanta's city limits. It is responsible for the construction of over 700 homes.

Editor: What was it that attracted you to Habitat for Humanity?

Bradley: I first got involved in this project through my church, which, together with another church, builds one or two Habitat houses every year. In the course of volunteering my services I discovered that there is tremendous gratification, and immediate gratification, in seeing the fruits of your labor at the end of the day. In addition, I found it very rewarding to roll up my sleeves and work with people I did not know - or if I did know them, knew in a very different setting - in something that can only be accomplished through a team effort. Finally, I was attracted by one of the concepts that underlies Habitat for Humanity, that giving a person a hand up is much better than giving him a handout. In Habitat for Humanity projects, the homeowner must contribute his or her sweat alongside the volunteers.

Editor: What do you do for the organization in your role as general counsel?

Bradley: I provide day-to-day legal advice to the staff and executive director as legal issues arise. I also provide general legal advice on a variety of issues, including organizational issues and corporate governance, to the governing board of the organization.

Editor: Would you tell us how you have gone about introducing Habitat for Humanity into the firm?

Bradley: The relationship that I have with Habitat enables me to draw upon the resources of the entire firm. Many of the legal issues that arise are outside my area of expertise, but I can call upon others in the firm for support, and I find a great willingness to help. I should also mention that the firm itself builds a Habitat for Humanity house about every two years, an undertaking that draws upon some 200 volunteers from the firm.

Editor: I understand that you conduct training programs for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and for the Georgia Legal Services Program on litigation skills. Would you describe these activities?

Bradley: Each organization conducts training programs for their lawyers, and then together they conduct what they call the Legal Services University. They have been kind enough to ask me to give training programs on such subjects as discovery, evidence, trial preparation and the like. I find this very fulfilling, both in the sense of helping the lawyers hone their legal skills and then in the sense of helping low income families in need of legal representation, but unable to afford it.

Editor: And the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation? What is this organization's mission, and what did you do in your role as Chairman of the Advisory Board?

Bradley: There are eligibility requirements to be served by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. That is, a person's income must be below a certain level in order for him to be eligible for representation by the organization. The Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation was founded some 20 years ago to provide legal representation to people who were above the Legal Aid Society income threshold, but who still were unable to afford legal representation. It is a non-profit organization and connects lawyers willing to volunteer their services to this particular community. As Chairman of the Advisory Board, I attempted to help in recruiting lawyers at the one end, in identifying program areas to be addressed at the other, and in raising money to support the endeavor.

Editor: Please tell us about the rewards of this kind of activity.

Bradley: The essential thing to remember is that pro bono activity is not some sort of afterthought, something tacked on to what we do as lawyers in a compensated context. A lawyer has a professional obligation to devote a certain amount of his time and talents for the public good. Taking that step is its own reward. Most people do not have the special skills that we have developed, through education and years of challenging, stimulating and, I might add, highly compensated, legal practice, to be able to make such a contribution. I think being able to do so is a privilege.But there are other rewards: the satisfaction of helping someone with a problem who otherwise is not going to be able to deal with it; and the satisfaction of seeing one's peers do something for someone and then realize that they have made a difference in that person's life. Anyone who has had these experiences will tell you that the reward is far greater than the effort.