Pro Bono - Law Firms Pro Bono Service: One Of Our Profession's Great Privileges

Monday, August 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Kline, would you tell us something about your career?

Kline: I am a partner in the New York office of King & Spalding and am a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. I am a finance lawyer, and my practice is typically representing investors, lenders and borrowers in domestic and cross-border asset finance transactions. At King & Spalding, I also serve as Chairperson of the New York office's Pro Bono Committee.

Editor: How did you come to King & Spalding? What attracted you to the firm?

Kline: I came to the firm in early 2001 as part of a group moving from the New York office of an English law firm. We were attracted by the reputation of King & Spalding and by the opportunity to build a practice on a very strong platform. The civility and high caliber of the King & Spalding lawyers was also a factor.

Editor: You have also spent a great deal of time in pro bono activities. Would you share with us some of the highlights?

Since my first year of practicing law, and even before as a law student, I have been involved in pro bono activities. I have long viewed a firm's commitment to pro bono and to community stewardship as a reflection of a firm's value system and of the individual lawyers who work there. This level of commitment was also a factor in my decision to join King & Spalding.

Currently, as Chairperson of the New York office's Pro Bono Committee, I am engaged in helping the firm's lawyers connect to as many different pro bono opportunities as possible. Overseeing the pro bono program in New York and seeing so many of our lawyers doing good work, making a difference and feeling good about their work, has been most gratifying. My own efforts have been, in the main, devoted to helping cancer-related organizations. This includes the Lymphoma Research Foundation, where, for approximately 10 years, I have served on several committees concerned with grants and a variety of legal and non-legal issues. Similarly, I have been engaged with the Belgian-based International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research (INCTR) for many years, with much of this effort devoted to the organization of the U.S. branch. I am also a member of INCTR'S governing board, which has been particularly rewarding.

Editor: How is the program structured? By way of example, are the various offices represented on a firmwide committee?

Kline: I met with representatives of a number of similar law firms recently, and I noted that there is a great deal of variety in how pro bono programs are structured. Our K&S program is organized into committees, and each office has its own. The committee members - and this includes both partners and associates - have shown their commitment to pro bono activity, and many of them have direct relationships with pro bono organizations. These relationships permit each office to remain connected to the local community, which is where we wish to have our greatest impact. The firm also has an excellent pro bono coordinator in Linda Parrish, who is a tremendous resource in terms of both administrative support and information for all of the committees.

Editor: Does the program have a particular focus, say, representation of the indigent or civil rights?

Kline: Our lawyers have a great deal of latitude in deciding what pro bono projects to take on, and there is considerable variety across our various offices. We follow the ABA guidelines on what qualifies as pro bono work for purposes of recording our time, and we incorporate the rules of the various state bar associations where we are located in this regard. Our focus tends to be on providing legal services, and most particularly access to justice, to the underserved. We also provide advice on a variety of matters to organizations that serve these populations. Most of what we do has some impact, direct or indirect, on the indigent.

Editor: Your practice is in the area of finance. Pro bono programs usually have plenty of work for litigators. How do you go about spreading as much pro bono work as possible across a wide range of practice groups and disciplines?

Kline: We have a tremendous base of pro bono and non-profit organizations established to serve the indigent. They send us an enormous variety of matters, and that enables us to provide many different types of work to our lawyers. I hasten to add, we encourage our transactional lawyers to take up things that might, at first blush, seem to be pretty far afield from their practice areas. For example, a litigation experience for a transactional lawyer is going to help in the development of their communication and legal skills with respect to transactional matters.

We do a great deal of work with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, which provides legal services to the arts community in New York. The legal issues are very diverse, ranging from contract drafting and negotiating, the organization and incorporation of non-profit corporations, employment matters, financing matters, and so on. At the moment, we have about 30 lawyers - most of them with transactional backgrounds - working with this organization.

In addition, our tax lawyers provide services to low income individuals through the Low Income Tax Clinic of the Legal Aid Society.

We are also a founding member of The National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, which is a partnership of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and The American Immigration Lawyers Association. This is an organization that the actress Angelina Jolie is helping to underwrite. Here we have opportunities for both litigators and transactional lawyers. From our vantage point, the skills of a good mergers and acquisitions practitioner, for example, can be brought to bear with excellent effect on behalf of someone confronting an administrative or transactional issue who otherwise might not be represented at all.

Editor: Does the firm credit pro bono hours against an associate's billable hours expectation?

Kline: It does. We do not have a billable hour requirement, but up to 50 hours of an associate's time on a pro bono matter is treated as billable time. When bonuses are paid, at least 50 hours will count towards the standards set for this type of compensation. The firm also pays discretionary bonuses, which often reward significant pro bono activity.

Editor: How do you handle the inevitable situation where a pro bono undertaking begins to require far more time than originally anticipated?

Kline: We handle those situations in the same manner as billable matters that become more demanding than expected. The work is prioritized in the same way that billable work is, and lawyers are expected to manage their time in precisely the same way they do for a paying client. That means, in effect, getting other people involved when the unexpected occurs and a greater commitment of time is required. If someone needs assistance, it is my responsibility to find the right support for the project. The resources are there, and we will make certain that they are allocated to get the job done.

Editor: Would you tell us something about some of the firm's recent pro bono matters?

Kline: In Leocal v. Ashcroft, we were successful before the United States Supreme Court in representing a Haitian citizen and permanent resident of the U.S. faced with deportation. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that felony drunk driving resulting in bodily injury is not the kind of aggravated felony that constitutes grounds for deportation.

In New York we handle a great many cases through inMotion, an organization that provides legal support to women who are victims of domestic violence. One of our lawyers, Colleen O'Loughlin, was recognized as the John K. Geiger recipient for outstanding contributions to the organization and for leadership in getting others involved. She is now clerking for Judge Pauley in New York.

Editor: Please share with us your thoughts about the connection between a strong pro bono program and firm morale.

Kline: I strongly believe that lawyers should be engaged in pro bono work for a number of reasons. The first is because it is a professional responsibility. The practice of law is a privilege, and since lawyers are possessed with access to justice they have an obligation to provide legal services - and that access - to those who, for a variety of reasons, do not swim in the mainstream of our justice system.

Another reason has to do with recruiting. Good lawyers just out of law school and looking at firms are thinking about pro bono opportunities. They are looking to do some good, and they are also interested in handling challenging and interesting matters for which they can take responsibility early on in their careers. It is no longer the case that the practice of law offers a career path where a person is a generalist before he is a specialist. Firms tend to direct young lawyers into specialities at a much earlier point than was the case in the past. In the pro bono arena, however, there is an opportunity to work on a broad range of projects, to take on real responsibility years before it comes in a billable setting and to have client contact from the very beginning of a case. The exposure to, and experience derived from, the exercise of real responsibility is priceless, and a firm that offers it is going to be way ahead of a firm that does not in its ability to bring young talent on board.

Pro bono also plays a role in the retention of good people. People engaged in pro bono activities tend to feel good about what they are doing and about a firm that supports them in these endeavors. While a number of factors figure in retention, personal job satisfaction is, in my view, the single most important one.

A firm's reputation is enhanced by a strong pro bono program, and the absence of a program, in this day and age, is a negative. Clients are interested in the pro bono undertakings of the firms they retain. They want to see their lawyers invested in the communities in which their employees live and where they conduct their operations.

Editor: And your thoughts about the rewards of pro bono service?

Kline: Pro bono work provides a lawyer with wonderful opportunities to work in new areas of the law and to enhance his or her legal skills in the areas that are familiar. And, all of this at an early point in one's career, much earlier than generally happens on billable matters. In addition, and even more importantly, pro bono work is a source of tremendous job satisfaction. Everyone engaged in this activity feels good about it and, as a consequence, good about themselves. That, in turn, contributes in a very positive way to the state of mind they bring to the matters they handle for paying clients.

The practice of law is a great privilege. One of the ways in which we give something back to the society that has accorded us this privilege is to provide an access to justice for the indigent and to those underserved by our justice system. And, that too, is a privilege.

Please email the interviewee at ckline@kslaw.com with questions about this interview.