Attorneys devote thousands of hours every year to helping those in need with legal issues, and often find it incredibly rewarding. But as with legal work of any kind, ethical issues can crop up. For example, what do you do if your pro bono client fails to appear for a hearing in family court? What if you agree to help a pro bono client obtain a Power of Attorney, but have a bad feeling about the motives of the person designated as the agent? How do you define the scope of representation for a pro bono client who seeks help with one problem, but turns out to have related legal issues?
These were among the questions raised at a Practising Law Institute (PLI) seminar, “Ethical Issues in Pro Bono Representation,” presented Dec. 20, 2011 in New York. The seminar can be seen online for free on PLI’s website. PLI, a Pro Bono Net corporate sponsor, has a longstanding commitment to public service work and often features programming related to pro bono.
The key is to “cultivate a culture that encourages lawyers to take on pro bono work while making sure that
it’s done in a manner that’s consistent with professional ethics and responsibilities,” said Madeleine Schachter, Partner & Global Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Baker & McKenzie, one of the panelists at the PLI seminar.
Other panelists included Bruce Green, the Louis Stein Professor and Director, Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Fordham University School of Law; Douglas J. Chu, Partner at Hynes & Chu LLP; Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law, New York University School of Law; April A. Newbauer, Attorney-In-Charge, Queens Neighborhood Office, Legal Aid Society; and Michael Scherz, Senior Litigation Counsel, Lawyers for Children.
Baker & McKenzie has established best practices and encourages consultation with Madeleine and others at the firm about questions that come up in pro bono cases.
As some law firm pro bono practices become global, there are special considerations about the need for cultural sensitivity and to take into account different regulations worldwide. Baker & McKenzie has a presence in 42 countries, and as part of its pro bono practice, it works on matters across borders. Often the firm joins forces with its commercial clients, working together with in-house counsel at multinational corporations, sometimes even contemporaneously collaborating with multiple companies on a project. Currently, for example, the firm is working together with six companies – Citigroup, Clorox, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Syngenta – on a project for the international NGO Ashoka.
There are special challenges with cross-border projects of this breadth and complexity. Madeleine believes that working closely with local partners is critical to the project’s success and impact. “Really good things come from collaboration,” she observed.
At the end of the day, having the right attitude makes all the difference, Madeleine said. It’s important for pro bono attorneys to see themselves as part of the community. “Together with our clients, we’re not so much bestowing our services as we are collaborating -- we’re not just serving communities, we’re investing in them,” Madeleine said.
More information on PLI’s pro bono programming can be found at pro-bono.pli.edu.