Doing Well By Doing Good – A Microsoft Hallmark

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - 12:54

The Editor interviews David A. Heiner, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft Corporation.

Editor: Please describe Microsoft Corporation’s legal department and your role.

Heiner: Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA) department is closely engaged on the full range of subjects that are shaping the development of the technology industry: privacy, data protection, security, software piracy, intellectual property, antitrust, standards, corporate social responsibility and more. We have more than 1,000 people in the department, a little less than half of whom are lawyers. We have people stationed in 51 countries so that we can address our clients' needs on a worldwide basis.

I lead two groups within LCA. Our Corporate Standards Group consists of lawyers and standards professionals located in more than a dozen countries who assist in Microsoft’s contributions to standard-setting organizations. Our Antitrust Group focuses on client counseling and interactions with antitrust enforcement agencies worldwide.

Editor: Please talk about Microsoft’s commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), and to pro bono in particular. What is the company’s overall philosophy regarding CSR?

Heiner: Microsoft believes that the mission of large organizations must extend beyond profit. Microsoft is a leader in philanthropy, corporate governance and human rights, among other things. Earlier this spring, Corporate Responsibility Magazine listed Microsoft in the number three spot on its prestigious annual list of 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

In its CSR work, Microsoft is focused on the “opportunity divide” among young people. That is the growing gap between those who are prospering and the tens of millions of young people who are not because they lack the education, skills or resources they need to be successful in a rapidly changing economy. We are bringing our technology, people and other resources to bear to help close the opportunity gap.

Editor: What is the legal department’s level of participation in pro bono?

Heiner: We strongly encourage employees to take on pro bono projects and many do. At a department-wide level, we cofounded (with Angelina Jolie) an organization focused on securing legal rights for immigrant children called Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). KIND partners with about 60 law firms and law departments to provide pro bono legal services to kids facing deportation and other legal problems.

We face the same challenge that a lot of corporate law departments face in this area – many pro bono matters are litigation oriented, and non-litigators often feel that they don’t have sufficient skills to take on these matters. But with the right support from the law department and sponsoring organizations, non-litigators can often do a fine job on these matters. Some of the standards lawyers on my team, for example, have recently taken on an immigration case, and they are off to a good start.

Editor: Can you describe some current pro bono projects in which your attorneys are involved (local, national or international)?

Heiner: Together with the ABA, Microsoft has created a Seattle affiliate of KIND called Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice (VAIJ). Microsoft lawyers and paralegals have handled more than 100 of these cases in recent years with great support from VAIJ. This is a particular interest of mine. I obtained asylum for an immigrant from Eritrea who had been tortured there and an immigrant from Kenya who feared persecution because of his membership in a particular social group. I’m currently working on another asylum case for an immigrant from Peru.

Lawyers on my team and others in LCA are also active in representing victims of domestic violence in divorce and child custody proceedings, including litigated proceedings. LCA lawyers also provide one-on-one consultation at neighborhood legal clinics concerning a range of matters. This is a good way for non-litigators to get involved.

LCA employees are more often engaged in community service work other than providing pro bono legal services. For example, LCA employees serve as a “buddy” for international development law organizations in Tunisia and Haiti. As a buddy they act as a resource for and assist local law organizations in creating programs that benefit the local legal profession and the rule of law. In various countries LCA employees assist young entrepreneurs by providing training on intellectual privacy and anti-corruption. For many in LCA, this is great way to advance a cause they care about in another country without having to travel to distant countries. Closer to home, LCA employees devoted well over 10,000 hours last year to a range of community service projects.   

Editor: Can technology enhance access to justice or generally increase the effectiveness of pro bono programs?

Heiner: We believe that technology can play an important role in promoting access to justice. Just as in the for-profit world, technology can help connect people and ideas and enable lawyers to provide services more efficiently. Technology can also help people to represent themselves by enabling them to access legal resources efficiently. Microsoft is a strong supporter of Pro Bono Net, a nationwide nonprofit that is dedicated to harnessing the power of technology to promote access to justice. Among other things, Pro Bono Net offers technology solutions that power a wide range of legal aid websites and solutions to enable video conferencing between volunteer lawyers and clients who may be hundreds of miles away. Here in Seattle, Microsoft is working with the Northwest Justice Project to develop an online platform for collaboration and content management based on Microsoft’s SharePoint Server 2010 and Office 365.

Editor: Please give some examples of how Microsoft technology has helped needy individuals and communities.

Heiner: Microsoft is directly engaged in the fight against child exploitation through its PhotoDNA technology and its partnership with the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children. PhotoDNA is technology developed by Microsoft Research and Dartmouth University to help law enforcement track photos of victimized children – even if the photos have been altered in various ways. Through collaborative, educational and technological efforts, Microsoft has developed partnerships with law enforcement agencies around the world and organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) and DNA Foundation to help protect children against technology-facilitated crimes. 

Microsoft has a long history of partnering with governments, intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations, and non-government organizations to help communities with disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. The Microsoft Disaster Response program, for example, is a corporate citizenship effort dedicated to improving the response capabilities of lead disaster response organizations, customers and partners responding to natural disasters.

Microsoft has donated its Sharepoint product to Pro Bono Net, which used it as a platform for a Web service it offers to law firms called Pro Bono Manager (PBM). PBM helps match volunteer lawyers with clients in need of assistance and helps law firms to closely track and manage pro bono hours.

Editor: Please talk about Microsoft’s CSR efforts that align with law enforcement.

Heiner: We’ve set up an organization within LCA that is solely focused on working with law enforcement. The mission of Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit is to bring technology to bear to help destroy the way cybercriminals operate. In recent years, Microsoft has worked closely with law enforcement to help disrupt dangerous “botnets” such as Waledac, Rustock, and Kelihos. We’ve also established global partnerships to rescue malware-infected computer owners from the grip of these botnets. Our PhotoDNA technology, which I mentioned earlier, has been instrumental in helping to reduce child pornography on the Internet.

Editor: We understand you serve on the board of directors of Pro Bono Net. Please talk about this commitment, from both the corporation’s and your personal perspectives.

Heiner: In the 1990s Microsoft Windows demonstrated the great efficiency of “platform software” – software that makes its capabilities available for use by other products. The Windows operating system enabled hundreds of computer manufacturers to build PCs and laptops and millions of software developers to build innovative applications. Microsoft works closely with Pro Bono Net because it is working to bring that same kind of platform efficiency to the provision of legal services. A core group of Pro Bono Net developers has built a platform that dozens of legal aid organizations use to run their websites – enabling them to easily connect with the volunteers and the communities they serve. Other Pro Bono Net technology solutions enable self-represented litigants to assemble the documents they need to support their cases, to find legal resources, and to connect with lawyers remotely.

I find this work especially appealing because it is highly leveraged: when Pro Bono Net improves its website platform, all of the legal aid organizations that use it can immediately benefit from the new capabilities. More broadly, we know that the legal needs of those who cannot afford a lawyer are not close to being met in our society, and there is little prospect of substantially increased government funding to meet this need. So we have to find innovative ways to stretch the limited funding that is available, and the efficiencies that technology can provide are one way to do that.

Editor: Is there a factual basis for stating that companies engaged in CSR attain a higher measure of financial success?

Heiner: Microsoft is pursuing corporate social responsibility initiatives because we believe that is the right thing to do. There are just too many problems in the world. Governments and nonprofits cannot do it all. We have to tap the resources of large organizations too. But we also believe that CSR is good for business. Through our CSR efforts we nurture vital relationships with stakeholders outside the company and attract and retain top talent – the most important resource by far for an intellectual property company.

 

Please email the interviewee at david.heiner@microsoft.com with questions about this interview.