Over 120 leaders from in-house legal departments and major law firms gathered on November 6, 2007, for the first-ever Pro Bono Leadership Convocation, sponsored by the Pro Bono Institute and the Association for Corporate Counsel (ACC). Held at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager & Flom, LLP in New York City, the Pro Bono Leadership Convocation brought together representatives of in-house legal departments and major law firms to focus on ensuring that the growing levels of pro bono service at law firms and legal departments more effectively address the need for legal assistance and effectuate systemic changes in our justice system.
Brackett Denniston, General Electric Company’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, and Esther Lardent, President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute, opened the Convocation by posing far-reaching questions for the participants: Does the current pro bono system lend itself to systemic impact? How can law firms, legal departments, and the pro bono delivery system make greater strides in addressing the enormous existing “justice gap”? What are best practices, through which leaders from corporations and institutions are looking at the social justice gap in a collaborative and systemic way? Facilitated by peers, the participants formed discussion groups and immediately engaged in lively debate, clarifying common goals, recognizing natural tensions within the current pro bono system, and identifying broad strategies to address the barriers to more systemic and impactful pro bono approaches.
After the two-hour event, which preceded the Pro Bono Institute’s Annual Gala at Gotham Hall, Ms. Lardent commented, “The Convocation was an opportunity to use the unique perspective, resources and problem-solving skills of corporate and law firm leaders accustomed to focusing on large-scale systemic issues and best practices. I was delighted with the level of discourse, energy, and enthusiasm that was created when these committed leaders applied their talents and focus on the pro bono system.”
At the close of the Convocation, Mr. Denniston called on volunteers to lead and sustain a conversation in the next six months around the issues raised. The Pro Bono Institute will be issuing information and invitations to participants to form an Action Group to continue the conversation and engage others in creating a more effective and impactful pro bono system.