Delivering Dedication, Professionalism And Care To Every Matter - No Matter How Big Or Small

Sunday, August 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: As one of the nation's leading law firms, with nearly 500 attorneys, how does Goodwin Procter make pro bono opportunities and activities accessible to its attorneys?

Mayer:
We take a variety of steps to make pro bono projects easy for our attorneys to undertake. We begin by reaching out to the legal services agencies in the cities where we're located to identify pro bono opportunities. We then publicize these opportunities, and others that arise in the course of our practice, by e-mail and other modes of communication throughout the firm.

To ensure that our lawyers are equipped to undertake these matters competently and expertly, we conduct training sessions using resources from within the firm, and we often bring in expert presenters from local legal services agencies.

In addition, Carolyn Rosenthal, our firm's Pro Bono Manager, organizes informational sessions with each entering class of recent law school graduates coming to our firm to begin their careers. In these sessions, new lawyers are given information about the program from attorneys in the firm who have been doing pro bono work in a variety of areas. Firm attorneys are also advised in several different contexts throughout their career at Goodwin Procter - in group meetings like the ones described earlier, often in one-on-one mentor sessions, and informally during the course of their practice with the firm - that we regard pro bono service as an integral part of their responsibility as attorneys with the firm, with the bottom line being that the firm expects them to undertake pro bono work in areas that are of interest to them.

Editor: In our August 2002 and May 2003 issues, we reported on your strong commitment to pro bono projects throughout your distinguished career. How does pro bono work provide compelling opportunities for professional and personal growth?

Mayer:
My pro bono interests are perhaps a bit eclectic. I work with emerging market countries on banking law matters, focusing particularly on their regulatory infrastructure relating to banks and other financial services companies. I also work with clients like the Pekinese Science School located off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, which provides something in the nature of an outward bound experience to troubled youth, but with a very heavy educational component. In addition, I represent the USS Massachusetts Memorial Committee, which is dedicated to honoring WWII veterans by preserving the Battleship Massachusetts. I've also worked on a merger of a battered women's shelter into a hospital.
Frankly, each of these matters has been enriching to me personally in different ways. In my work abroad, I've been able to link my regular practice with services to help clients in need. This is indeed very satisfying. However, in all circumstances, my pro bono experiences have provided me with a perspective on how fortunate I am to be practicing in a firm like this when so many other people in the community don't have the same kinds of professional and economic opportunities that I and the others who practice with me have.

Editor: How have you connected your extensive domestic banking practice with a life-long interest in emerging market countries?

Mayer:
My experience has grown out of dealing with troubled financial institutions in New England and bank regulatory enforcement actions generally. I've been able to apply those lessons to some of the same kinds of problems faced by bank regulators in emerging market countries, in particular the countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.

I've also been given the opportunity by colleagues in the international community, including at the IMF and the World Bank, to work on legal reform and training missions in the Middle East. It's really in many ways just good luck to be able to link U.S. domestic experience with international "public clients" that can benefit from that experience.

Editor: How do your firm's pro bono activities address local community needs?

Mayer:
While our international pro bono work has gotten a lot of publicity, it's fair to say that the vast majority of the activities we undertake are in fact regional or local in relation to our office locations. In attempting to address local community needs, we establish close relationships with the legal services agencies dedicated to meeting those needs in the various cities in which we practice - Boston, Washington and New York.

Our work substantively ranges from litigation matters on behalf of indigent people, to business law matters in an effort to spur on economic development and build affordable housing, to other work on behalf of people who could not otherwise afford legal assistance. In the criminal law area, we take on matters referred by the Federal Court on behalf of indigent defendants at both the trial and appellate levels. We also participate in the Bar Advocacy Program by taking on matters in the Roxbury District Court. In the affordable housing area, we work with legal services organizations such as the Lawyers Clearinghouse on Affordable Housing and Homelessness and the New York Lawyers Alliance, and for clients such as Habitat for Humanity here in Boston and Neighborhood Housing Services in New York. On the economic development front, we work with the Economic Justice Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights to support efforts by inner-city entrepreneurs to develop their businesses, primarily in Boston, but also in other cities in the surrounding area with large populations of disadvantaged residents - including cities like Lawrence, Lowell and Brockton - with a large low-income population. We also work with the Volunteer Lawyers Project in the Boston Bar Association and with the Boston Housing Court under a program styled "Lawyer for the Day" in which our lawyers provide counsel to, and mediation assistance, on behalf of pro se tenants and landlords in eviction actions.

We also work with artists and arts organizations through the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in Boston and New York, and work on concerns of the aging through Volunteer Lawyers Project, and with a children's law program that focuses on issues concerning children who have special needs in the educational area. We have also just begun to work with an innovative program called the "Family Advocacy Program" that uses Boston Medical Center and community medical clinics as a screening vehicle for identifying families in need of legal services.

We in fact handle a broader variety of cases than I have mentioned, but this gives a pretty good sample. Because our lawyers have a wide range of expertise and interests, we want to provide a variety of pro bono opportunities to take full advantage of their interests and expertise.

Like every law firm, we have areas of special strength that we regard as the leading areas in our practice. One of our goals going forward is to identify pro bono clients and pro bono activities that match our practice specialties. With the needs and resources matched, we will be in the best position to have a greater impact either in an area of law or in a part of the country, or with respect to a particular issue of international or regional importance. But at the same time, the legal services needs of the communities that we practice in are certainly very broad, diverse, and deep, and we want the opportunities that we deliver to reflect that reality as well.

Editor: Your firm and its attorneys have received numerous awards and recognition for outstanding pro bono service. Congratulations.

Mayer:
The wide recognition of our firm's pro bono work is based in no small measure on the efforts of a large number of people within and outside the firm.

Over the past several years, the firm has made a great effort to provide pro bono opportunities to our business lawyers in areas that complement their practices, namely providing corporate, intellectual property, labor, tax, real estate and other assistance to inner-city entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations. This effort was recognized in 2002 by the American Bar Association which gave the firm its "National Public Service Award." And this past May, one of our associates, Anna Dodson, received recognition from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for her work in the area of providing legal assistance to inner-city entrepreneurs, and engaging other attorneys to dedicate their time in this area.
The firm, and individuals at the firm, have also received recognition from some of the legal service groups with which we work such as the New York Lawyers Alliance, the Rape Survivors' Law Project, the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and the Political Asylum Immigration Representation Program, as well as from a number of our clients including Habitat for Humanity and the Friends of Boston's Homeless.

There are a number of firms around the country that are committed to doing pro bono work. It's nice to receive recognition, but it's also important to recognize that there are a lot of other law firms also engaged in this work. We're proud to be associated with these firms and with these activities.

Editor: Please share with our readers your thoughts about your firm's extension of its strong commitment to pro bono into the future.

Mayer:
Our firm's commitment to pro bono has a long history and is part of our culture. While our firm has always had a strong commitment to public service activities, I think it's fair to say that, with the steps we've taken over the last four or five years, our pro bono commitment has become even more "institutionalized." I am completely comfortable in saying that our commitment will remain strong going forward, and I anticipate that as we make efforts to align our strengths with the needs of our communities, we're going to be engaged in even more significant activities going forward.

Editor: Do young attorneys share your commitment to pro bono?

Mayer:
Yes, indeed. Working closely with our hiring committee, I interview many prospective applicants, including law students. I'm struck by how young lawyers today - more than say four or five years ago - use time during an interview to question me carefully on the scope of our pro bono program and our commitment to encouraging attorneys to engage in pro bono activity. Based on the sampling of the applicant pool I see, pro bono is becoming increasingly important to young lawyers as a consideration in choosing a firm where they'd like to practice.

Please email the interviewee at wmayer@goodwinprocter.com with questions about this interview.