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2007 Pro Bono Institute Annual Seminar and Forum on In-House Pro Bono

As those who attended can attest, this year’s Seminar/Forum was an incredible experience.   Participants in the sessions were brimming with ideas, and the event was alive with energy.  As the largest gathering in PBI’s history, it was also a bit too crowded, but the caliber of the discussions and the quality of the participants made the space squeeze worth it.

In addition to the substantive programming, two key strengths of this year’s Seminar/Forum were the unparalleled networking opportunities and the availability exchange of effective, concrete ideas attendees could take home and implement.  At the Lessons Learned Luncheon that ended the programming for law firm for law firm representatives, many speakers noted that they had discovered specific ideas and options that resolved questions or issues that they were dealing with.

Despite the fact that the media is not permitted to attend, the event has also received its share of press – including a mention in the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.  Highlights from the Seminar/ Forum will also be featured in an upcoming issue of the Wire and on the PBI website.

For the early planners out there, please save the date for the 2008 Seminar/Forum, which will be held on February 28, February 29, and March 1, 2008.

Please see below a selection of remarks from the event’s exciting reception, held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  Please also see a selection of photographs from the event, which will also be featured on the PBI website in the near future.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg Remarks


Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Associate Justice
Supreme Court of the United States

Remarks for Pro Bono Institute Reception
March 2, 2007

In the good job fortune and President Clinton gave me, I receive invitations by the score to speak here, there, and everywhere.  To assure adequate time for the Court’s heavy work, I am obliged to follow Nancy Reagan’s counsel and, just say “No” to most requests.  But not even once have I resisted Esther Lardent’s request for remarks at these annual gatherings, because I so admire how she has nurtured the Pro Bono Institute to become the flourishing force for the public good it is today.

Lawyers affiliated with the Institute know that law cannot rank as a true and learned profession if its practitioners work simply as skilled artisans, ready, willing, and able to earn fees for their craft.  Men and women who rightly regard the practice of law as a public calling understand that it is their obligation to aid in assuring that there will be a well trained and sympathetic lawyer, when needed, for those unable to pay for legal services.

As always, the Pro Bono Institute has chosen as its honorees people who are the very best in our profession, dedicated contributors to the public good who inspire others to follow in their way.

Michael Helfer, recipient of the Zelon Pro Bono Award, was well known to many in this room as a sage counselor and eventually managing partner at Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering (now also Hale and Dorr).  At Wilmer, Michael observed at close range a revered grand master of the law and public service, John Pickering, a man whose support of the Pro Bono Institute was large and constant.  Currently General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Citigroup, Michael has created a model pro bono program for Citigroup’s legal department.  Under his leadership, Citigroup lawyers have strived to assist Gulf Coast individuals and small businesses to recover from the ravages of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

Once President of D.C.’s Legal Aid Society, Michael is today a Board member of New York City’s Legal Aid Society.  Citigroup lawyers, prompted by his initiative, are providing sorely needed assistance to the City’s low-income residents.  Among other pro bono endeavors, Michael is a founding Board member of Lawyers for Children America.  Michael’s wife, Ricki Tigert, is a dear friend of many years.  I think she would agree, because we share a fondness for opera, that Bravo is the right word for Michael’s devotion to good causes.

The Chesterfield Smith Award is not an annual presentation.  It is made by the Institute, together with the firm Chesterfield led, Holland & Knight, to celebrate extraordinary individuals when their lifetime of pro bono achievement warrants special recognition. The award is fittingly named, for Chesterfield himself was a public service dynamo.  By word and deed, he urged his own law partners, then lawyers everywhere, to do good, to place community service at the center of their professional lives.

Tonight, the Chesterfield Smith Award will be presented to Thomas A. Gottschalk, who is retiring this year from his post as Law & Public Policy Executive Vice President of General Motors.  Before joining GM as a senior Vice President and General Counsel in 1994, Tom, like Michael Helfer, was a leading lawyer in this town, a partner and member of the management committee of Kirkland & Ellis’ D. C. office.  Throughout his career, he has devoted his talent and time to realizing in practice our Nation’s high aspiration etched on the portal of my workplace: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Tom has taken on major civil rights cases for the Lawyers’ Committee, and has established in the heart of Detroit a model legal clinic for low-income persons.  Lately, he has added to his good works a major mission for the Institute.  This audience knows of the Institute’s Corporate Pro Bono Challenge, an effort to enlist in-house lawyers and legal departments to ensure that at least half of the legal staff will engage annually in pro bono work.  Esther tells me that, to date, 55 legal departments have enrolled in the Challenge.  It is Tom’s aspiration and expectation to swell that number to 100 before the year is out.

With applause for the honorees and cheers for all associated with the Pro Bono Institute, I look forward to many encores of these annual celebrations.  May the Institute continue to thrive through the good works and contributions of its caring supporters.


Robert C. Sheehan Introduction of Michael Helfer

Robert C. Sheehan Introduction of Michael Helfer at Pro Bono Institute Seminar

National Museum of Women in the Arts Washington, DC

March 2, 2007

Thank you. I’m Bob Sheehan, executive partner of Skadden, Arps —and, more relevantly tonight —- Co-Chair with Regina Pisa of the Law Firm Advisory Committee of the Pro Bono Institute.

It is exciting to be here tonight – surrounded by the work of true vision by women artists. They challenge us to see the world from a different perspective. It is appropriate that we are here to honor the recipient of the Pro Bono Institute’s public service award which is named for the Honorable Laurie D. Zelon. It was Judge Zelon’s (Laurie’s) vision that has inspired so many lawyers across the country to adopt a public service perspective by answering the call of the law firm pro bono challenge.

Corporate legal departments have —- in recent years —- issued their own version of the Pro Bono Challenge℠, and few in the corporate world have answered that call as enthusiastically and effectively as Michael Helfer at Citigroup. I am honored to introduce Michael, who is here to accept the Laurie D. Zelon award on behalf of the entire Legal Department at Citigroup. Michael is widely respected not only for ids keen legal mind (he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and a clerk for the legendary Chief Judge David Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals here in the District of Columbia). He’s also respected for his devotion to public service. He is a founding member of the Board of Directors of Lawyers for Children America, a former president of the Legal Aid Society in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Advisory Board of the Legal Aid Society of New York. Michael’s deep involvement on behalf of children —- evidenced by his history with Lawyers for Children America — is an interest that runs deep in his family —- as it does in mine. When Michael came to New York in 2003, his wife Ricki Tigert Helfer – who, like Michael, is one of the country’s most accomplished financial industry lawyers —- became involved in children’s issues up there in her new hometown —- in part, through the citizens’ committee for the children of New York where my wife Beth helped to introduce Ricki to the myriad issues poor children face every day living in the city. CCC —- the acronym by which that children’s support group is generally known —- is a vigorous and highly respected advocate on behalf of those kids, and Ricki has already become an important part of CCC.

When Michael was appointed General Counsel of Citigroup in 2003, he brought with him a vision of creating a legal department that was socially conscious, including a focus on pro bono work. Given the law firm from which he hailed, that aspect of his mission as general counsel comes as no surprise. For Wilmer Cutler & Pickering (now Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr) has just about the most illustrious reputation of all major law firms for its dedication to serving the needs of the disadvantaged in society. And, Michael was not only a partner there —- he was Wilmer’s managing partner for several years in the late 90’s, continuing —- indeed fostering —- the pro bono tradition famously pioneered by the firm’s founding fathers. Today, we see the influence of Michael on Citigroup’s pro bono efforts.

Citigroup’s legal team created their pro bono legal initiative, an effort to promote pro bono work by the company’s lawyers. Hundreds of lawyers have joined in, assisting low-income court litigants, battered women, low-income artists (perhaps, one will be shown here one day), street vendors, elder care facilities….. The roster of pro bono clients helped by Citigroup lawyers is simply remarkable. Citigroup has been particularly successful in matching corporate transactional lawyers to appropriate pro bono projects. Roughly 50% of Citigroup’s lawyers have engaged in pro bono work. That is an enviable record for a group consisting basically of corporate and regulatory lawyers. The lawyers at my firm —- Skadden, Arps —- struggle to match that degree of pro bono participation each year.

There’s one place in America that knows first-hand how much Citigroup and its lawyers are devoted to pro bono work. —- that is the communities of the gulf states which were devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Over 25 lawyers from Citigroup contributed hundreds of hours of pro bono work related to hurricane survivors. They’ve helped 1,000 small businesses secure grants and relief funds to rebuild. They’ve traveled to Mississippi to staff free legal clinics for hurricane survivors seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (and that can take a while) and —- from their offices in New York. — they’ve worked on appeals to FEMA on behalf of numerous individuals and businesses. In Louisiana, they helped create —- and continue to work on —- a non-profit organization known as “Second Wind” to help small business owners. They also are providing legal support to charter schools in New Orleans and advice on projects to construct low -income, environmentally-sensitive housing.

Corporate Counsel Magazine has lauded Citigroup’s law department for these efforts, asserting that no other corporate law department has made such a commitment of time and resources to post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. It’s been so successful a project that, at times, there’s even been a waiting list of lawyers at Citigroup who want to join in this pro bono effort.

It’s fitting that this award tonight be presented to the entire legal team of Citigroup —- because their admirable work truly has been a collective effort. But it’s also fitting that Michael accept this award on behalf of his team because it was his drive and vision with the same spirit exhibited by Laurie Zelon – that has guided Citigroup’s efforts.

Michael, please come up and accept the Laurie Zelon award for public service.


Michael Helfer Remarks

Michael Helfer Remarks – PBI Annual Seminar/Forum Reception

Thank you Bob…

I am very pleased to accept this award on behalf of Citigroup, our legal department — and my colleagues Ed Greene, Jane Sherburne and Mike Sharp, who have been so instrumental in helping to build and support our pro bono program – and especially my colleague David Goldberg, who has devoted himself to making the program work – and I certainly want to thank Esther and the rest of the Pro Bono Institute for recognizing our efforts.

I am proud of the pro bono work Citigroup lawyers have done – from hurricane relief projects on the Gulf Coast to helping children and families in New York – our lawyers have made a real commitment to pro bono work. I also want to acknowledge all the help we have had along the way, from both law firms and legal aid organizations, many of whom are represented here tonight…

At the risk of offending someone, I particularly want to thank the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Stroock, Stroock & Lavan – they both played a big role in getting our lawyers involved early in hurricane relief projects that helped invigorate our pro bono program… I also want to thank the Lawyers Alliance for New York and the City Bar of New York who have provided so much support for our projects in the New York City area.

Esther suggested that there might be some interest in what we’ve learned at Citigroup in trying to build a corporate pro bono program. It’s very different from building a pro bono program in a law firm.

First, you need the support of the most senior executives of the company.  We had that – terrific support from our CEO Chuck Prince – who, luckily for me, is (or was) a lawyer himself.  If you are a general counsel considering strengthening or developing a pro bono program, don’t launch without CEO support.

Second, you need the strong support of your senior legal team.  Here, again, I was lucky – Ed, Mike and Jane each comes from a firm with a long and distinguished pro bono commitment, and each of them wanted to create a strong pro bono program at Citigroup.  If you’re thinking about a pro bono program and you do not have the support of your senior legal team – well – you need a new senior legal team.

Your senior lawyers need to encourage pro bono work, and acknowledge and value the efforts that their lawyers make on pro bono assignments – but let me tell you, your team will watch what you do, not just what you say.

When one of our senior business general counsels commuted over 2 hours by bus and train to some remote location, on a cold, rainy winter night, all to participate in a pro bono project, people noticed, and they talked.  And it made a tremendous difference in getting our program off the ground…..

I’m not supposed to say who that person was, but, Amanda Sharp, you should be very proud of your father.

Third, try to take advantage of existing company-wide initiatives.  Unlike a firm, where each lawyer is a source of revenue, in-house lawyers are overhead. In that environment, it’s easy for business people to question why they have the number of in-house lawyers they do, let alone why those lawyers would have the time to take on pro bono projects.

For me, the answer to that kind of question is easy – providing pro bono service is not an extracurricular activity, it is at the very core of what it means to be a lawyer. But in addition to making that argument, we consciously wrapped our pro bono efforts into initiatives that already had broad company-wide support.

To be specific, in 2004, Citi began an effort to develop what we now call our “shared responsibilities” – one of which is a responsibility all employees of Citi have to the communities in which we work and live. As part of that initiative, the company expanded its volunteer program and encouraged every one of our more than 300,000 employees to take one paid day each year to provide volunteer services.  In the legal group, we took advantage of that program to encourage our lawyers to do pro bono work as their volunteer service.  For the general counsels here, if you could get every one of your lawyers to do just 8 hours of pro bono work a year, think of the impact you could have.

Fourth, spend some time thinking about what kinds of pro bono projects will excite your lawyers and how you will find them.

The most available type of pro bono work involves litigation.  While that’s relatively easy for firms to take on, we generally don’t have the resources or expertise to take on litigation work.  So instead, we have to focus on transactional, advisory and other non-litigation projects — these can be hard to find.

As part of the solution, we have actively tried to partner with law firms and legal aid organizations.  By tapping into their resources, our lawyers have been able to participate in projects we could not have undertaken ourselves. We have been working with many firms and organizations, but I think we can still find many new ways to leverage these relationships.

As we look forward, we know there is much more that can be done. We are striving to expand our pro bono efforts and to help strengthen pro bono service in the legal community as a whole.

In 1986, Justice Brennan observed “we do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for urban masses….we are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”   I wish I could say – I am sure we all wish we could say — that over 20 years later, we are a lot closer to the end of the struggle, but we cannot.

So while I am very pleased that Citigroup has received this honor tonight, we will look at this award not as a symbol of what we have accomplished, but as a reminder of all the challenges we still need to meet.

Thank you…


Thomas A. Gottschalk Remarks

Thomas A. Gottschalk Acceptance Remarks – Pro Bono Institute Award

March 2, 2007

–         Justice Ginsburg, Esther, to all of you, I want to say that —

–         I am deeply honored to receive this award, particularly because of the enormous respect I hold for the Pro Bono Institute and its good work, and the respect I also have for Chesterfield Smith who by lifelong example inspired the American Bar to be involved in public service and to provide legal representation to those who need or desire it but who cannot afford to pay for counsel.

–         So, I do very much thank the Pro Bono Institute for this citation, even though I consider myself a very pale reflection of the robust example set by Chesterfield Smith and most of you in this room.

–         In trying to think what else it might be appropriate to say in the three minutes Esther told me I might speak, I found my mind turning back to a conference I attended on Wednesday on the Rule of Law sponsored by the ABA and IBA, the International Bar Association, where Justice Kennedy spoke on that topic and by his appearance there, as Justice Ginsberg does by her appearance here this evening, underscored the importance the Justice attaches to the subject matter at hand.

–         The conference focused on what are the elements of the Rule of Law which we as a society believe should be respected around the world.

–         Nine elements were suggested as important to a Rule of Law, and the sixth of these was a “fair, robust, and accessible legal process” – one that “is accessible to all members of the community.”

–         The more the day-long discussions continued, the more I thought how much unfinished work we have to do in this country to realize the full promise of the Rule of Law.

–           In the course of his remarks, Justice Kennedy reminded us, for example, that in the US we imprison more people than any country other than China, and two-thirds of our prison population is African-American and Hispanic.

–         Those of us who earn our livelihoods from our legal system and who can afford to participate in the legal process sometimes lose sight that even in our own communities the law – the legal system – may be regarded more as an obstacle, than a solution; more as an oppressor, than a protector.

–         Part of the reason for that perception is that our legal system is theoretically open to all, but practically foreclosed to those without means, without education, without citizenship — with notable exceptions, but these exceptions are seen as exceptions, if they are even known by the many who believe that the legal system works not for them, but primarily for those who have wealth or connections.

–         Now, I didn’t know what I might be handed tonight in conjunction with the Chesterfield Smith award, but a thought did occur to me as to what I would regard as most appropriate.  And, that would be a mirror.

–         A mirror certainly not to hold up to my face which would simply remind me of the passage of time, but a mirror for me to hold up to this audience.

–         I would first want that mirror to reflect the good work and leadership of Esther Lardent and her colleagues at the Pro Bono Institute, which last year completed a decade of being the primary national organization which provides the infrastructure – the network, the tools, the programs — to encourage law firms and companies to develop significant pro bono initiatives, so the promise of the Rule of Law, of a legal system that is truly fair and accessible to all members of the community steadily moves closer to being a reality.

–         A couple of weeks ago, Helen Mirren got an Oscar for her role as the Queen in The Queen.  Tonight, in receiving the Chesterfield Smith Award, I feel like I am getting an Esther from the Queen herself, the Queen of Pro Bono as her friends refer to her.

–         It has been and is Esther Lardent as much and more than anyone who through the Pro Bono Institute has caused the attorneys in law firms and corporations to recognize and accept the challenge to support and encourage pro bono legal representation as part of their professional and civic responsibility.

–         The progress over the past decade has been extraordinary, so please join me in recognizing and thanking Esther for all she is doing and all she represents to support the Rule of Law in this country.

–         My mirror would next reflect Susan Hackett – Esther’s partner in pushing progress in pro bono, especially in her role at the Association of Corporate Counsel to encourage law departments and staffs of companies, large and small, to recognize the significant role they can and should play in helping deliver legal services to those in their communities who need but cannot afford them.

–         And, my mirror would then turn to Steve Cernak, a colleague of mine on GM’s Legal Staff, who has been leading our pro bono activities over the years and working in partnership with other companies, Detroit law firms, and legal service providers to staff the local Bar’s clinic and other local community service needs.  I want to acknowledge and thank Steve for his leadership and steadfast commitment to continuing the tradition of pro bono service by GM lawyers.

–         Some years ago, someone tried to quantify the percentage of legal services which were provided to the indigent and needy by lawyers from firms and companies compared to the percentage provided by those dedicated, full time attorneys who staff the Legal Aid and Public Defender organizations in our communities.

–         We couldn’t develop reliable data, but we were guessing then that the comparisons would be unfavorable to the firms and companies – we were guessing something like 3% to 97%, or maybe 5% to 95%.

–          Whatever the ratios, from my work with the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, and from the work Bobbie and I see our daughter Debbie does at Community Legal Services in Delaware, I have the greatest respect and gratitude for those dedicated women and men who were attracted to the law, and pursued legal services careers precisely because they wanted to deliver on the promise of a fair and robust system accessible to all members of the community.

–         So, I would finally hold the mirror up to those professionals so their faces could be seen and recognized as the true heroes of this cause, the ones we are privileged to partner with and who have much to teach us, the professionals who make the rest of us proud to be considered part of the profession with them.

–         It has been and will continue to be an honor and pleasure to work with you, and tonight’s Award will serve as a constant reminder to me that our work to make the Rule of Law – the precept of Equal Access to Justice – universal will never be finished until the respect we have for it and which motivates us is indeed shared by all members of the community.

–         So, thank you again for the honor of this Award and even more the honor of being aligned and working with you in this important yet unfinished work.