August 2017

Attorney service on nonprofit boards is advantageous for both the attorneys and nonprofits, but there are important practical and ethical considerations. At the Practising Law Institute‘s seminar “Serving on a Nonprofit Board: Practical & Ethical Considerations for Attorneys” on August 2nd, expert faculty addressed the important considerations for both attorneys thinking about nonprofit board service and attorneys already serving on a nonprofit board.

The Panel

Program Co-Chairs: Courtney Darts, Director of Education, Pro Bono Partnership; Nancy Eberhardt, Director, New Jersey Program, Pro Bono Partnership
Guest Faculty: Jennifer Chandler, Vice President, National Council of Nonprofits; David G. Samuels, Duval & Stachenfeld LLP

What is a nonprofit?

This seminar addressed serving on boards of public charitable nonprofits that fall under the 501(c)3 IRS classification. These types of organizations have no owners or shareholders, but do have a volunteer board of directors to provide direct oversight. As part of the board, members have a fiduciary duty to the organization as a whole and to ensure the organization is following best practices and the law. The role of a board member is to determine the organization’s mission, strategies and program priorities, ensure the organization uses its resources only in fulfillment of its purposes as laid out in its certificate of incorporation, and ensure compliance with local, state and federal laws and regulations.

What considerations should an attorney think about before joining a board?

Joining a board is a big commitment as board members are crucial to an organization’s success. So why would an attorney want to join a board in the first place? For many, it’s a serious commitment to the cause of that organization itself, or an opportunity to use their perspective and experience as a lawyer for the public benefit. It can also be a way for attorneys to get involved in their local communities and make both personal and professional connections.

Whatever the reason, there are many questions to ask before joining a board. In addition to personal considerations, attorneys should ask what the time and financial commitments are, what deliverables are required of them as a board member, and the expectations as an attorney for serving on the board. They should also be sure to look into their employer’s policies on board service to ensure compliance. The panel provided a list of documents, such as the governing documents or the most recent financials, which should be reviewed before making the commitment as well.

What ethical issues should attorneys be aware of?

First and foremost, attorneys should understand that their responsibility as an attorney and a board member is to be working in the best interest of the organization as a whole, not the Executive Director, individual board members or themselves. Even when the founder of an organization is the Executive Director or on the board, the organization as a whole should always remain the focus.

Since most nonprofits don’t retain regular counsel, it is very common for an attorney on the board to be asked to provide legal advice. This can lead to conflict of interest concerns as well as confusion when speaking with the board or staff. While it isn’t necessarily illegal or wrong to provide legal counsel while serving as a board member, it’s advisable to serve as only one or the other at a time. The panelists even suggested leaving the board if retained as counsel to alleviate any potential conflict of interest.

The panel went on to discuss several hypothetical situations and what the options and responsibilities are for attorneys who are serving on the board. To watch this free program, now available on the Practising Law Institute website, visit www.pli.edu.


Practising Law InstituteThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information. 

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visitwww.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.

On June 28th, 2017, Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP hosted our annual “50 Tech Tips” webinar. In this training, five presenters shared the applications, programs, and tools that they use to make their within the legal aid community easier.

The talk began with Zizi Bandera from the Immigration Advocates Network, who introduced a number of organizational web tools and extensions. One of the useful tools covered,  “Tab Snooze,” is a chrome extension that can help hide away some of your tabs for a set time, keeping them to out of sight until you need them again.

Next, Reece Flexner, from the DC Bar Pro Bono Center introduced some very handy tools for those working with code. One such tool was Brackets, which provides a way to quickly edit a style on a HTML element while also offering a live preview of any edits you do make.

Afterwards, Xander Karsten, Project Manager at Legal Server, shared with everyone practical, everyday tools, like the “Undo Send” option that Gmail offers. This tool allows you to set up a period of time after sending an email in which you can still “undo” it – certainly a useful tool for those last minute changes!

Following up with even more tools offered by Google was Anna Steele, Senior Consultant at Just-Tech. She covered the Explore tool that can be used in Docs, Slides, and Sheets, to streamline the process of gathering and putting together information.

Wrapping up the presentation was Jillian Theil from Pro Bono Net, sharing a number of online security tools. “Have I Been Pwned?”, one of the suggested tools can be used to check for any breaches in the security of your email accounts.

To learn about all the tips, and tools shared during this webinar, you can find the full presentation here, and the corresponding slides here.

Author: Eliza Xie, 2017 Pro Bono Net Outreach and Engagement Intern

 


LSNTAP helps nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology. To do this, we provide technology training, maintain information, create online tools, and host community forums such as the LStech email list. Read about us, or contact us at info@lsntap.org for more information.