National Celebrate Pro Bono Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need and the incredibly important work of pro bono volunteers in building our capacity to meet the vast unmet need for civil legal services. This year we have been celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency. Today we are highlighting additional pro bono work around the country, and sharing resources to help volunteer attorneys get started. 

Earlier this year, the separation of families at the boarder headlined news outlets everywhere. Now? Not so much. While headlines in the US may have moved on, many families are still separated and immigrant parents are still detained in more than 200 immigrant prisons and jails in the U.S.

According to recent numbers, more than 4,000 parents and children were separated at the US-Mexico border between May 5, 2018 and June 9, 2018 as part of earlier “no tolerance” policy under the current administration. While efforts to reunite families have begun, thousands of parents and children still face uphill legal battles for reunification and relief.

Continue Reading An Interview with Betty Balli Torres, Pro Bono Net Board of Directors | A Pro Bono Week Exclusive

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.

Karen S. Levy

Karen S. Levy, Director of Global Technology at Debevoise & Plimpton, joined the Pro Bono Net Board to help advance our mission of leveraging technology to provide access to effective legal services.  Prior to her leadership position at Debevoise, Karen held senior technology roles Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Edwards Wildman Palmer.  She has also served as a legal industry consultant, advising international law firms on technology strategies and implementations.

 

PBN: What brought you to PBN?

KSL: I was aware of PBN through my firm’s use of Pro Bono Manager, a software product used to assist our lawyers in identifying and tracking pro bono assignments. I was later introduced to the organization and its mission by Michael Mills, whom I have known for many years through his work at Davis Polk, and former PBN board member John Alber, who I worked with at Bryan Cave some years ago. Through Michael and John I came to gain an appreciation of the full extent of PBN’s services and mission.

PBN: What about our mission most interests you?

KSL: I’m continually impressed by the strong commitment to pro bono work at my firm and the opportunities it presents for individuals to contribute to the greater good and experience personal growth. I’d been contemplating ways in which my technology skills could be leveraged to provide similar opportunities for non-lawyers when I was approached by PBN to join the board. PBN’s mission to leverage technology to provide access to legal services to a large population of those who are in need of assistance made it a perfect match.

A large portion of the U.S. population does not have access to a lawyer, however most do have access to the internet. PBN takes advantage of ubiquitous technology as the access point and the lowest cost route to deliver information and resources to a large number of individuals with common needs. An example of this is the online templates that PBN developed to enable Hurricane Sandy victims to appeal denials of FEMA benefits.

PBN: You work in a field where women are often the minority, how did you develop an interest in technology?

KSL: I took a computer science class in high school that piqued my interest. I then pursued it as my college major which ultimately led to a computer science degree and job opportunities requiring technical skills. It’s the working with lawyers part that wasn’t exactly part of the plan!

PBN: What more can be done to make the field more accessible to young women?

KSL: The field is entirely accessible to women. The problem is that women are often not attracted to the field. We need to help girls see past the stereotype, providing them with an understanding of the breadth and depth of skills required to succeed. I hope the emergence of successful female leaders, such as myself, provides more young women with a positive vision.

PBN: Anything else you’d like to share?

KSL: I am married and the mother of three children who make me smile every day.