For many, the start of a new year is a good time to reevaluate priorities and map out what you’d like to accomplish in the year ahead. If your 2019 goals include finding tangible ways to make the world - and your community - a better place, please read on.
While there’s no shortage of great causes to which to donate money or time, some corporate lawyers are under the impression that there aren’t as many opportunities to volunteer their professional talents. In fact, transactional pro bono opportunities abound, and the effect those services have on nonprofits and our neighborhoods is remarkable.
Meaningful & Manageable Transactional Pro Bono
In Pro Bono Partnership’s (the Partnership) program, volunteer attorneys are not asked to handle all of a nonprofit’s legal needs. Rather, a volunteer takes on a discrete project that is typically within his or her existing area of expertise. Volunteers handle the same types of matters they deal with in their daily practice, including contracts, real estate, intellectual property, HIPAA and privacy, and other non-litigation-based projects. The Partnership’s opportunities are uniquely structured to get the most out of skills-based volunteering with an understanding of the needs of busy in-house lawyers. All clients are pre-screened, and the Partnership’s on-staff attorneys provide supportive expertise in nonprofit law and model documents when necessary. Many of the Partnership’s matters take a few hours or less to complete, and nearly all can be done remotely and are not time sensitive.
"The folks at Pro Bono Partnership are very sensitive about in-house counsel’s time constraints and make it clear to the clients that work outside of the scope of the project must go through them. Further, if for any reason you cannot complete the assignment, Pro Bono Partnership will gladly take the project back. It creates the perfect opportunity to provide interesting and rewarding pro bono legal advice without the worry of getting in too deep on something that takes up all your time."
--Jeff Gruen, Merck & Co., Inc., director, legal; labor & employment practices
Longtime Pro Bono Partnership volunteer and supporter, Mark Benevenia, from Merck’s environmental, health, and safety division in the office of general counsel continued:
"Even if the project is not squarely within your existing area of expertise, you can partner with an attorney who has that expertise either within or outside of your own in-house legal staff. This provides an excellent opportunity for professional growth while at the same time providing valuable and much needed support to these worthy non-profit organizations."
Among the myriad legal issues nonprofits face, one category represents more requests for assistance than any other: employment law.
Employees Mean Risk for Nonprofits as Well
Employment is one of the biggest areas of risk for businesses, and nonprofit organizations are no different. Employees are the heart of an organization, and the ever-changing nature of employment law at federal, state and municipal levels means that nonprofits need a strategy to remain compliant and avoid risk. However, many charities choose to forego legal advice because paying for legal services would significantly impact their programs and their commitment to the community. This is where Pro Bono Partnership and other similar organizations step in. Pro Bono Partnership addresses the legal needs of our nonprofit clients by partnering with more than 1,400 volunteer attorneys to provide expert legal assistance at no cost to the client. More than a quarter of the requests for legal assistance from the Partnership’s nonprofit clients are employment related. Typical employment-related issues charities face include:
- Reviewing worker classifications (employee vs. independent contractor; exempt vs. non-exempt)
- Developing or reviewing personnel policies and procedures
- Managing accommodation requests and leaves of absence
- Advice about performance management
A volunteer lawyer can resolve many of these issues with one or two phone calls, and the result can have a significant impact on the nonprofit, their constituents and the communities they serve.
Impact of Pro Bono Services
The fact that charitable organizations can use their precious financial resources for continuing, expanding and improving programming means that volunteer attorneys are indirectly helping the thousands of constituents the nonprofits serve.
Maureen Tinen, president of UCEDC, a nonprofit economic development corporation said:
"Our volunteer attorneys helped us navigate the complex and ever-changing employment law landscape, and we couldn’t have done it without the Partnership. I’m confident we’re in compliance with the law, and I’m grateful that I have a trusted resource I can turn to for legal advice before things become a problem. The best part is that all of these professional services are free to UCEDC, so our efforts and funds remain focused on helping entrepreneurs and small businesses in New Jersey."
Similarly, Kim Tsimbinos, governance committee chair of Lunch Break, noted that the organization’s years-long relationship with Pro Bono Partnership has led to the completion of several projects that would not have been possible otherwise:
"The Partnership has assisted with revising our bylaws, updating our conflict of interest policy, a complete review and the total revamping of our employee handbook, a review of a lease agreement, and many others. Some of the matters had quick answers, and others were more complex and took more time to complete, but we always knew we were getting the best advice from the most knowledgeable experts on each subject. The fact that Pro Bono Partnership enabled us to address these important legal issues without cost provided a tangible benefit to individuals in our community for whom we provide food, clothing, and fellowship on a daily basis."
Some goals can be daunting, but volunteering for pro bono matters is not one of them. You can get started today by visiting our website and completing a brief form to become a volunteer. While you’re there, take a look at the “Volunteer Opportunities” section that can be filtered by practice area, state or type of organization. Chances are you’ll find something that will pique your interest, and you can be sure that an appreciative client will be thrilled to hear from you.
Published February 22, 2019.