Pro Bono - Corporate Counsel Starbucks: Supporting Pro Bono Services In Seattle And Beyond

Monday, August 1, 2005 - 00:00

Lucy Lee Helm

Starbucks Coffee Company is committed to offering the highest quality coffee while conducting its business in ways that produce social, environmental and economic benefits for communities in which it does business. Starbucks has a steadfast commitment to the core values and guiding principles set forth in the Company's Mission Statement. Those guiding principles include uncompromising commitments to "embrace diversity as an essential component in the way we do business" and to "contribute positively to our communities and our environment."

In an effort to support and live Starbucks core values and fulfill our commitment to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them, Starbucks Law & Corporate Affairs department has established a formal pro bono and community service policy and program. The law department strongly encourages all attorneys, paralegals and administrative support partners (employees) to participate in pro bono activities. To facilitate participation, our department participates in specific pro bono programs organized by bar associations and selected by the department's Pro Bono Committee and actively sponsors a range of community outreach activities.

The first pro bono project that the law department endorsed was the Housing Justice Project (HJP), a service sponsored by the King County (Washington) Bar Association Volunteer Legal Services Program. HJP provides free legal help to eligible low-income tenants who would otherwise appear without legal representation at their eviction hearings. The HJP's goals are to prevent homelessness, provide free legal representation to low-income tenants in eviction hearings, and provide simple and manageable ways for private attorneys to provide pro bono services.

Starbucks became the first corporate law department in Washington State to participate as a volunteer group for the HJP's pro bono legal services program. Starbucks made a three-year commitment, beginning in 1999, to provide a rotating group of two lawyers and two support staff from the legal department to spend alternate Tuesdays representing low income tenants as they made their way through housing court disputes with their landlords.

By participating as a group, we have also been able to provide monetary contributions to HJP through our company's volunteer program, Make Your Mark . Starbucks launched the program four years ago to encourage partners, friends, families and customers to volunteer in our neighborhoods and rewards our efforts by providing cash contributions from the company to the nonprofit organizations where we volunteer.

With our drive to positively affect our communities and the company's support and encouragement through Make Your Mark, more than 30 partners from Starbucks Law & Corporate Affairs department have participated in HJP. The services that our legal volunteers have provided include: conducting initial screenings to determine eligibility of what services clients need and want; advising and instructing clients on how they can represent themselves or negotiate with landlords; and providing limited representation at show-cause hearings or negotiating with opposing counsel.

Starbucks Law & Corporate Affairs department was honored by the King County Bar Association in 2003 as "Firm of the Year" in recognition of our partners' outstanding efforts and hours dedicated to HJP, as well as the department's service as an example to other corporate legal departments. Being a recipient of this award was particularly meaningful to us because our legal team was the first in-house department to be recognized as "Firm of the Year," an honor that is usually only given to law firms.

Beginning in May 2004, our department expanded the pro bono programs that we sponsor for department member participation. In addition to HJP (which we continue to support monthly), the department also regularly participates in three other bar association sponsored projects: (1) the Estate Planning Project (providing low-income clients with assistance in drafting wills, powers of attorney and medial divestitures); (2) the Kinship Care Solutions Project (representing grandparents, family members and other low income care takers in third party child custody hearings); and (3) Washington Attorneys Assisting Community Organizations (WAACO) (providing legal assistance to charitable and community-based non-profit organizations on business and organizational matters). Our Pro Bono Committee has provided informational sessions to our partners about each of these projects and has sponsored in-house training sessions to encourage participation in these worthwhile programs.

Starbucks Law & Corporate Affairs department is proud to be a part of the Housing Justice Project and other bar association pro bono programs, and we are grateful for our company's support of our participation. We will continue to look for ways to become more involved in our communities and volunteer our legal expertise through pro bono services well into the future.

Lucy Lee Helm is vice president and assistant general counsel, Starbucks Coffee Company.