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November 2011
Homepage  |  Committee Roster  |  Join the Pro Bono Committee

National Public Service Award Nominations

The Committee on Pro Bono is now accepting nominations for the 2012 National Public Service Award. To nominate an individual, law firm or corporate law department, click here. The deadline for nominations is January 13, 2012.

Promoting and Publicizing Business Law Pro Bono

This newsletter is one of the many outlets available to Committee members to publicize and promote business law pro bono activities. If you are aware of a pro bono or public service project or activity and think Committee and Section members may benefit from knowing more about it, contact the staff at allyn.oconnor@americanbar.org.

Get Involved

The Pro Bono Committee conducts many ongoing and other activities that offer Section members the opportunity to get involved. If you are interested in working on Committee programming efforts, participating in the National Public Service Award selection process, or publicizing business law pro bono activities, contact the staff at allyn.oconnor@americanbar.org.

Pro Bono goes Green

The Section's Annual Meeting attendees had the opportunity this year to hear about significant projects and work done by Toronto's business lawyer in the interest of the environment, sustainability and green cities.

Evergreen Brick Works

This year's Annual Meeting pro bono breakfast featured speakers involved in the Evergreen Brick Works project. Geoff Cape, Evergreen's Executive Director, gave attendees an overview of the project. The Evergreen Brick Works is a former quarry and industrial site locate in the Don River Valley in Toronto. For nearly 100 years, it provided the bricks used to build many Toronto businesses and homes, some of which are well-known landmarks. The nonprofit organization Evergreen has acted as steward for the site since 1997 with a vision of transforming the site into a public-use space and creating an international center for the study and promotion of urban sustainability.

Evergreen Brick Works project
Evergreen Brick Works project at the 2011 ABA Annual Meeting

Cape described the many entities with diverse interests in the site: railroads, commuters, highway authorities, wealthy residents, poor residents, and the city, provincial and federal governments. Cape noted the challenge of working with politically complex and diverse and often conflicting interests. He also described the challenging geographic and environmental issues that come with rehabilitating the former industrial site.

Consistent with the vision to make the site an international hub for green cities, Evergreen now houses a LEEDs platinum office complex. It also includes a nature education center and a farmers market.

Cape reiterated Evergreen's biggest challenges - facing multiple interest groups without significant lobbying or other relevant experience, working on sophisticated financial transactions, and focusing on risk management. Cape knew he needed the assistance of many professions to make the project succeed, including lawyers with finance, real estate, regulatory and other experience. Cape turned to Lynn Burns of Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO).

Burns is PBLO's Executive Director. PBLO is a full-service consulting organization for law firms interested in developing formal pro bono programs. PBLO identifies and develops pro bono projects for firms and helps firms create pro bono policies. PBLO focuses on legal matters not otherwise handled by publicly-funded legal assistance organizations.

Burns met with Cape in 2003 and realized how ambitious his plans for Evergreen were. She and Cape developed a proposal to solicit pro bono legal assistance. Burns immediately considered the Blakes law firm. She knew it as a pro bono leader in the Toronto legal community and directed the Evergreen opportunity there. Blakes had been searching for opportunities for corporate lawyers and invited Cape to present on the project.

The Evergreen-Blakes relationship began with a Memorandum of Understanding with a two-year duration. It's now been renewed seven times. Blakes partner Peter MacGowan has worked on several Evergreen matters. So far, a total of 85 Blakes timekeepers have worked on Evergreen matters, covering finance, real estate, general corporate, intellectual property, tax, and municipal law (sorry, no litigators). MacGowan characterized the Blakes relationship as a partnership. "And with the right type of partnership, lots of opportunities for benefits on both sides of the ledger," he says.

Pro Bono projects bring opportunities for professional development, he notes, and the Evergreen project is no exception. In fact, working with Evergreen has given Blakes volunteers new skills - thinking like social innovators. For MacGowan, working on a sustainable development project that has educated him on environmental issues has transferred additional skills to his work as a finance attorney.

Burns says the success of the Evergreen-Blakes relationship has spurred Toronto large firm interest in environmental work.

Cape is pleased with the outcome so far. Evergreen has received over $1 million Canadian in legal assistance from Blakes. He expects the pro bono community to see far more public-private partnerships spinning off pro bono opportunities in the future, especially where complex urban issues are involved. MacGowan reflected on the reward of working on something with such tangible results. He regularly bicycles to work through the Evergreen space.

Albert Koehl
Albert Koehl, staff attorney for Ecojustice


Albert Koehl , Ecojustice staff attorney attended the Pro Bono Committee meeting and discussed Ecojustice and its work in Ontario. Ecojustice began as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. It is funded with private donations and is dedicated to environmental litigation and law reform. Albert cited examples of the work done by Ecojustice attorneys, including seeking Canadian compliance with Kyoto protocols and seeking enforcement of migratory bird protections by requiring markings on high-rise windows.

Albert indicated that Ecojustice uses law students, interns, and articling lawyers for assistance. In determining whether to seek or accept pro bono legal assistance, Ecojustice considers all of the following: how developed the case is, the specific task with which assistance is needed, the specific skill required to perform the task, how the Ecojustice lawyer's time will be spent relative to the volunteer effort, the existence of a pre-existing relationship with the volunteer and, if a law firm is involved, the existence and extent of any relationship with that firm.

Marty Venalainen
Marty Venalainen, associate at McMillan

Business Lawyers and Environmental Pro Bono

Local business lawyer Marty Venalainen, a McMillan associate, also spoke to the Committee. Marty described McMillan's pro bono efforts generally - partnering with Pro Bono Law Ontario on the medical-legal partnership at the Hospital for Sick Children and acting as duty counsel in the area small claims court.

Marty also related his own experience volunteering for Islands First. Islands First assists the small island states by advising individual island nations' U.N. missions on environmental policy and comprehensive strategies for advancing their environmental agendas. Marty volunteered to assist Islands First at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. During the Conference, Marty worked with volunteer Yale law students to assist Palau's mission.

Policy News

The Supreme Court of Nebraska has adopted changes to rules governing the registration of in-house counsel. The rule changes become effective January 1, 2012 and will permit attorneys registered in the state as in-house counsel to "provide pro bono legal services through an established not-for-profit association, pro bono program or legal services program or through such organizations specifically authorized in Nebraska."

Pro Bono Institute President and CEO Esther Lardent suggests that the time for mandatory pro bono draws near. In the September 13, 2012 National Law Journal, Lardent proposes several significant steps the profession should take to address the unmet legal needs of the poor.


You can read the minutes of the August 2011 Pro Bono Committee meeting HERE.