The Legal Department of Citigroup Inc. received the Pro Bono Institute’s 2007 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award during a well-attended reception at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. Michael S. Helfer, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Citigroup Inc. accepted the award on behalf of the Legal Department. The award, given each year to an individual or organization that has provided exemplary pro bono service, was presented in conjunction with the Institute’s 2007 Pro Bono Seminar and Forum on In-house Corporate Pro Bono – a global conference that brings together major law firms, corporate legal departments, and public interest and civil rights organizations to focus on joint efforts to enhance and improve pro bono service.
In accepting the award, Helfer briefly shared four lessons Citigroup would impart to other companies seeking to establish and grow pro bono programs. They included top executive buy-in, senior legal team involvement, taking advantage of existing company initiatives, and discovering the projects that excite your lawyers.
“When one of our senior business general counsels commuted over two 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,” Helfer noted.
The award recognized Citigroup’s leadership in providing pro bono legal assistance to hurricane survivors, innovation in using partnerships, commitment to developing and promoting pro bono service, and its commitment to increase diversity in its own legal units, its outside law firms and in the legal community as a whole.
“We were particularly impressed by Citigroup’s work as counsel to a group called ‘Second Wind’ – a non-profit organization that is striving to help the many small, often minority and women-owned, businesses in New Orleans recover from a financial catastrophe,” said Pro Bono Institute president, Esther Lardent. “Their existence is key to the city’s recovery, and Citigroup’s lawyers are helping secure funding and support for this key constituency.”
Citigroup attorneys from the U.S. and Mexico have provided hundreds of hours of pro bono work to individuals and organizations in need of legal assistance after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Company’s senior legal management team created the Pro Bono Legal Initiative – a collective effort by legal staff across the Citigroup businesses to develop pro bono opportunities and encourage pro bono service. Through this Initiative, Citigroup lawyers engaged in pro bono projects they could not have undertaken otherwise by using creative partnerships with law firms, legal aid organizations, and public interest groups in the Gulf Coast and the New York metropolitan area.
About the Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award
The Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award honors the legal leadership of Laurie D. Zelon, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal and one of the originators of the Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono ChallengeSM. Justice Zelon has been a long-time member and served as Chair of the California Commission on Access to Justice, and she is an active member of several statewide judicial committees addressing administration of justice issues.
About the Pro Bono Institute
Established in 1996, PBI is a non-profit organization mandated to explore and identify new approaches to the poor and disadvantaged unable to secure legal assistance to address critical problems. In doing so, the Institute identifies and develops innovative programs and undertakes rigorous evaluations to ensure that these new approaches are workable and effective. The Institute administers a number of projects designed to enhance access to justice, including: the Law Firm Pro Bono Project; the Corporate Pro Bono Project; Second Acts; Global Pro Bono; and the Reinventing Pro Bono Project for public interest organizations.