Corporate attorneys are often overlooked when we think about all of the great pro bono work in the legal community. The Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award underscores that many attorneys in the corporate legal community can and do make exemplary contributions by improving access to justice for the less fortunate.
The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) and the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) created this special award to recognize the generally unsung contributions of attorneys in the corporate sector and to encourage other corporate attorneys to volunteer their time and talents to help those in need. To underscore its commitment to pro bono in the corporate sector, the Exelon Corporation has generously endowed the award, allowing the winner to designate a special Chicago Bar Foundation grant to the legal aid or public interest law organization of his or her choice. William A. von Hoene, Jr., Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Exelon Corporation, explains, "We at Exelon view pro bono and community service as an integral part of our legal department's work, and we are proud to support this award."
Steve M. Cook, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Sears, Roebuck & Co. received the award this past year. Cook was the driving force behind the creation of Sears' acclaimed pro bono program.
He has always has made pro bono work a priority in his career, actively participating in many projects during his years at law firms before coming to Sears, where he has been a leader in the legal department's pro bono efforts. He is able to integrate Sears' overall charitable goal of increasing home ownership into his volunteer work by emphasizing real estate closings projects and transactional work. Steve also works with the Community Economic Development Law Project (CEDLP), the Public Interest Law Initiative, Lawyers for the Creative Arts, and Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions. And, he led Sears to take the innovative step of partnering with the law firms Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP and Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal LLP to work together on pro bono projects.
Steve highly recommends partnering on pro bono project. He explains, "It enables cross-training and development (each of us learns from the other) and provides additional resources and backup to a project. We can be there for each other if necessary. We can also use each other's contacts and networks to spread the reach of pro bono."
The Chicago Bar Foundation improves access to justice for people who are impacted by poverty, abuse and discrimination. The CBF's mission is grounded in the belief that access to justice is central to our democratic society and that the concerted efforts of a few can make a real improvement in the lives of many. The CBF accomplishes its mission by awarding grants and other assistance to more than legal aid and public interest organizations, encouraging the legal community to contribute time and money, functioning as a clearinghouse for information and resources, and providing leadership in the community on access to justice issues. For more information about the CBF, please call (312) 554-1204 or visit www.chicagobarfoundation.org.