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Pro Bono at ACC – Walking the Walk

The Association for Corporate Counsel, PBI’s partner in launching and administering Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), is the voice of the in-house bar.  Their commitment to pro bono has been demonstrated by the creation and development of CPBO, and, as always, in their support for their employees’ pro bono and community outreach service.  ACC’s Associate General Counsel, Jim Merklinger, recently prevailed in an interesting pro bono immigration matter.

Jim, who grew up in Virginia Beach before attending Wofford College and the University of South Carolina School of Law, hasn’t led a dull life.  Jim was in China with one of his brothers when the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square occurred and had an interesting time trying to return to the United States.  He also took time between college and law school to teach English in Japan.  As Associate General Counsel for an organization for in-house counsel, it is Jim’s job to balance legal issues for the organization and its chapters with membership services.  He is also the Director of Large Law Programs and, with Susan Hackett, facilitates ACC’s Ethics Program.  At any given time, he can be handling both substantive and advocacy issues.

Jim’s interest in pro bono has its roots in his continuing interest in community service.  Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a child, he became interested in working with other children with Tourette’s, and interned at a school for disabled children while in college.  Jim, who has always been interested in travel, participated in an immigration clinic in law school, finding similarities between immigration practice and working with people with disabilities based on the discrimination both constituencies face.  During his clinic, Jim won a 212(c) case against experienced government attorneys, and that experience has stayed with him, leading to his recent pro bono victory.

In Jim’s recent deportation matter, the client plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge more than 10 years ago.  The federal government recently decided, without a trial, that that same misdemeanor charge (more than 10 years after its disposition) should now be treated as a felony, thereby making it a deportable offense.  Because the client prevailed, despite a great deal of difficulty obtaining the records – Jim was eventually able to find the original arresting officer – he is allowed to continue living in the United States with his wife and new born daughter.

ACC, which has a written pro bono policy encouraging volunteer work on the part of its entire staff, has been very supportive, both of Jim’s pro bono efforts and his advocacy on behalf of people with Tourette’s.  The ACC also has an annual community outreach day, as do ACC chapters.

Jim has personally taken on pro bono immigration matters and work with the elderly due to circumstances, including that early clinic victory, but he notes that there are interesting pro bono opportunities even for attorneys with no trial experience.  There are short-term opportunities and interesting pro bono matters that can make use of the knowledge and experience other attorneys have.  Jim recommends contacting your local legal service provider – they are almost always short-staffed and are frequently eager for the help.  He also recommends working with the boards of local non-profits – interesting work with intelligent people who can really benefit from the legal skills of a pro bono attorney.  Furthermore, in-house counsel should visit the website of Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) for additional guidance on finding pro bono work.


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