Pro Bono - Corporate Counsel State Bar Of Texas Honors Charles Matthews

Monday, August 1, 2005 - 00:00

The following report on the exemplary pro bono and community service of Charles W. Matthews, Jr., Vice President and General Counsel of Exxon Mobil Corporation, is reprinted with permission from the State Bar of Texas.

First Pro Bono Experience: "While in law school, I worked part time for the Houston Legal Foundation. One of my duties was to go to the jails every day at the crack of dawn and interview every new prisoner. If he or she needed an attorney and could not afford one, a member of the Houston bar was assigned to take the case."

Current pro bono role: "Within our law department, we established a standing committee, which facilitates pro bono involvement by our attorneys. We recruit attorneys, organize activities, provide training, and make it easy for attorneys to participate. As an example, our Exxon Mobil attorneys staff family law evening clinics. They take cases related to family law, AIDS-related legal issues, immigration law, bankruptcy, wills, probate, and disaster relief. Our corporation provides financial support to various organizations that support pro bono. And, I am personally involved in fundraising for individual and corporate contributions."

Why does Exxon Mobil value pro bono work? "Exxon Mobil has a long history of supporting its employees involved in community service. The willingness and dedication of our lawyers to participate in pro bono activities has been an inspiration. It is part of being a good citizen of the community and a representative of a good corporate citizen. I have ensured that we maintain an internal structure and culture that complements their efforts."

What next? As the first corporate counsel member of the Access to Justice Commission, what do you hope to accomplish? "There is so much opportunity and need. We need to provide a more structured mechanism for in-house counsel to participate. This includes training. People who want to do pro bono work want training so that they can provide good representation. This will increase participation. If you get involved, you understand the needs and develop a higher sense of commitment, which leads to financial support. It follows that corporations who have a culture of supporting their employees will also provide financial support."

Why don't more in-house counsel participate in pro bono work? "Most in-house counsel are internally focused. We need to emphasize external communication. We need to encourage in-house counsel to take a more active role in bar functions and serve on committees of the bar, if we are going to be full participants in the profession. It takes a little extra effort to be externally involved, but the benefits are great. There are plenty of opportunities and good roles for in-house counsel to play."

How will you get more in-house counsel involved in pro bono work? "Many other corporations have employees that contribute and respond to the needs of the community. My goal is to encourage the lawyers within their corporations to consider pro bono activity as a natural fit with the privileges associated with being a member of the legal profession. There is an opportunity for in-house counsel to help ensure that the principles of our legal system are not undermined by lack of access.

"I believe that there is a reservoir of talent and good will that can be called upon to provide greater support of pro bono activities. This can be of great service to those in need, as well as provide an opportunity for in-house counsel to further demonstrate their important role as leaders in the legal profession."

Why do pro bono work? "I don't consider pro bono work to be an obligation or to be mandatory. It is our professional responsibility. It's helpful to the rule of law that people have access to justice. If they don't, it undermines the entire rule of law. It's our obligation to protect the whole concept of the justice system."