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Building a Pro Bono Program the Verizon Way

Building a Pro Bono Program the Verizon Way

Three years ago, when Verizon’s office of General Counsel set out to build a top-flight legal volunteer program, they built it in a way that’s particularly — Verizon-ish.

We have a large legal group of more than 400 attorneys and 300 staffers dispersed over more than 20 states and several countries around the world. Instead of building a series of small, local programs and going it alone, Verizon’s legal team, did something different.

They built it much like we build our networks.

They picked a great partner — in this case, DLA Piper, a law firm with more than 4,000 lawyers and a lot of pro bono expertise. They deployed cutting-edge technology to spur staff collaboration, such as electronic meeting rooms, online training programs and webinars to train volunteers and coordinate case work . They installed case approval and tracking systems and put in place detailed policies and a steering committee to keep the program properly focused and on-track.

This approach — all this ground work and infrastructure building, this thoroughness and dedication to create something of lasting value — sits behind the scenes. But it’s necessary to keep the program going for the long haul.

The results have been impressive. In 2011, 328 attorneys and legal staff participated in Verizon’s Pro Bono Program -- including attorneys in countries around the globe -- volunteering thousands of hours.

Here’s a sampling of recent achievements:

  • A contingent of 50 volunteers has begun working with the National Veterans Legal Services Program, serving veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder by helping them apply for a federal benefits program that aids veterans injured while performing hazardous duty.

  • A joint team of attorneys helped immigrant victims of domestic violence apply for special visas that would allow them to remain in the U.S. without having to depend on their partners.

  • Verizon and DLA Piper worked to change rules that made it difficult for corporate attorneys to do pro bono work in Virginia. As a result, the restrictions were lifted in April, clearing the path for our lawyers — and any others that follow — to do pro bono work in the Commonwealth.

  • Our pro bono program earned the prestigious 2011 Pro Bono Partner Award from the Pro Bono Institute. They also won accolades from the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Chapter of the ACC. In addition, the program was cited as a factor in being named to the G.I. Jobs Top 100 Military-Friendly Employers List for 2012.

A program like this is a success that is shared among many: our communities get much needed legal services and our attorneys get to work on something they’re passionate about.

Blazing a Trail for Other to Follow in Virginia

Attorneys don’t often fight to work for free, but that's exactly what Verizon did in Virginia, where ethics rules prevented in-house counsel such as the members of our legal team from providing pro bono service in the Commonwealth.

At a conference called by the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court in April 2010 on the state of pro bono service in the Commonwealth, Randy Milch, executive vice president and general counsel for Verizon, urged that Virginia’s ethics rules be changed to allow full participation by in-house counsel, noting that such counsel are “no less talented or committed to meeting the needs of the poor” than other lawyers.

That call for action resulted in a recommendation by the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association to lift restrictions on in-house pro bono. The change was approved by the Virginia Supreme Court and became effective on April 15, 2011. Verizon is currently working on this issue in other states.

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