Attorney Eric Teasdale, Senior Counsel and Compliance Leader at GE Oil & Gas, first heard about the Clinic in a Box from a colleague who thought it sounded like an interesting volunteer opportunity. A group of GE lawyers signed up to attend and on December 8 they joined nearly 40 other in-house attorneys at Mintz Levin, where they were connected with representatives from 14 local nonprofits seeking help with their bylaws and conflict of interest (COI) policies.
The two-part program, co-sponsored by Lawyers Clearinghouse, Corporate Pro Bono, and the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC-Northeast), kicked off with a 90-minute training session for the volunteer lawyers, led by Mintz Levin attorney Anthony Hubbard, who discussed bylaws, and retired Casner & Edwards Partner Dick Allen, who covered COI policies.
Eric says the comprehensive training session was a great way to equip the attorneys with the legal knowledge needed to draft effective documents.
“Some folks had experience advising nonprofits on these issues before and others were doing this for the first time, myself included,” he says. “It really answered all of the questions.”
Following the training, the volunteers–who hailed from companies like Adobe Systems Incorporated, Bose Corporation, Boston Scientific Corporation, Liberty Mutual, National Grid USA, and Velcro Companies–were paired with nonprofit attendees for a private session, where they helped the organizations update, and in some cases create, their bylaws and COI policies.
One-day programs like the Clinic in a Box are a great way for attorneys, who may be too busy to take on traditional pro bono cases, to offer their expertise in a meaningful way.
“It was great to work with some smaller nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts that we probably would not have interacted with otherwise,” says Eric. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for a lawyer to come in for three or four hours and be able to truly help an organization and make sure they have the policies in place that they need.”
There are also numerous benefits for the nonprofit clients, who often cannot afford legal counsel for matters such as governance documents. Pro bono assistance enables them to focus their energies and resources on the communities they serve.
More and more companies are encouraging their in-house counsel to get involved in pro bono and Eric says there are a lot of ways for attorneys to find opportunities. He suggests reaching out to legal services organizations like the Lawyers Clearinghouse, the local bar association, and the ACC, or even volunteering to serve on a nonprofit board.
The Clinic in a Box was not Eric’s first experience with pro bono. He got his start volunteering as a law student at Duke and later participated in the Clearinghouse’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless while working as an associate at Choate Hall & Stewart. Through the clinic, he worked on cases related to eviction, social security benefits, and other issues facing those who are homeless and at-risk of becoming homeless.
These days, Eric volunteers with the Kids in Need of Defense Program, which provides legal representation to unaccompanied minors entangled in the U.S. immigration system. Though he doesn’t work on immigration law in his day-to-day job, he says the cause is very important to him.
“I would encourage lawyers, in-house or otherwise, to look for something that they’re interested in; something that they’re passionate about,” he says. “Pro bono is a great way to be able to participate in those activities and make a difference.”
The Lawyers Clearinghouse offers a variety of pro bono opportunities for in-house attorneys. For more information or to get involved, contact Legal Referral Director Machiko Sano Hewitt by email or at 617-778-1954.