Pro Bono - Law Firms Pro Bono Service: A Special Responsibility Acknowledged And Fulfilled

Thursday, September 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Krane, please tell our readers something about your career.

Krane: I graduated from New York University School of Law in 1981 and joined Proskauer immediately thereafter. I became a partner in 1989, and I have been with the firm ever since except for a year when I was a law clerk for the Hon. Judith Kaye, who was then the junior judge on the New York State Court of Appeals. It was a wonderful year, and it has been an honor for me to continue to be associated with someone who has gone on to be the Chief Judge of the State of New York.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Krane: I came to Proskauer to be a tax lawyer and quickly decided that I was more comfortable in the role of a litigator. From the beginning I was involved in the firm's sports law practice, which included work for the NBA and the NHL as well as Major League Baseball. Over time, I also developed a practice in legal ethics and in the representation of lawyers and law firms faced with ethical problems, including disciplinary and malpractice cases. About a year ago we formed a Law Firm Advisory Practice Group of which I am co-chair. In addition, I continue to be engaged in traditional litigation and alternative dispute resolution.

Editor: You have also had something of a parallel career with the City Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association. Would you tell us about your work in the area of professional ethics and attorney conduct in these forums?

Krane: My interest in professional ethics goes back to law school, where I had a fellowship to study SEC disciplinary proceedings. When I arrived at Proskauer I quickly learned that everyone was expected to be involved in bar association activities. I became involved in City Bar Association work and served on both the ethics and professional responsibility committees. In time I became Chairman of the City Bar Association Ethics Committee, and about the same time I came to serve as chair of the New York State Bar Association committee on the Code of Professional Responsibility. The latter effort resulted in the approval of about 90 amendments to the Code which went into effect in 1999. That committee became the State Bar's Committee on the Standards of Attorney Conduct, which is about to issue a report proposing the adoption of a version of the Model Rules in New York. Recently I became a member of the ABA Ethics Committee. I should also mention that in the middle of all of this activity I spent a year as President of the New York State Bar Association.

Editor: How does your professional ethics work connect to your pro bono undertakings?

Krane: The professional ethics and bar association work is in the public interest. It is crucial to maintain the highest possible image of the profession. Pro bono undertakings have a similar image-enhancing purpose, although it is hardly the only one. Providing legal services to those who cannot afford them is the right thing to do, but it also boosts the reputation and standing of the profession in the eyes of society. I think you will find that those lawyers with a strong commitment to pro bono work are similarly committed to ethical standards of the highest order. And vice versa.

Editor: You are also in charge of Proskauer's pro bono program. Would you say something about the firm's history in this area?

Krane: Proskauer has always had a strong tradition of public service. This includes pro bono activities, bar association work, organizing and running foundations and non-profit organizations and involvement in the community in a variety of ways. This reflects a recognition, I believe, that a law firm does not exist for the sole purpose of serving its paying clients - important as that may be - but that it is a member of society. That recognition imposes a responsibility of public service on the firm collectively and on its lawyers individually.

Editor: You have been engaged in the firm's pro bono undertakings for many years. What have been some of the highlights?

Krane: I try to have at least one active pro bono matter at all times. I have handled several criminal appeals in state and federal court throughout my career. I also worked on an animal rights case for the ASPCA challenging the hunting of bears with dogs. I felt considerable satisfaction from the angry letters coming from hunters that resulted from our success in obtaining summary judgment striking down the regulation. Currently, I am representing the NYSBA in its suit against the FTC challenging federal privacy regulation, a case now pending in the District of Columbia Circuit.

Editor: And the current projects? Can you give us an overview of some of the more recent undertakings?

Krane: We have just issued our first pro bono newsletter. This recites at least a few of the many matters currently underway. Bert Deixler of our Los Angeles office has argued and won a case involving the segregation of inmates in California prisons in the United States Supreme Court. We have an ongoing case - 18 years now - concerning an inmate on Florida's death row. We have begun an affiliation with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which reflects my interest in animal rights. We have also undertaken the representation of several New York inmates sentenced to indeterminate terms under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Earlier this year the New York Legislature gave inmates an opportunity to seek reduction in their sentences. We were hopeful that we will be successful in having our client's sentences rolled back.

The Adopt-A-Company program that we started to help businesses in lower Manhattan recover following September 11 has been very successful. Among other things, it represents an opportunity for our transactional lawyers to engage in some very worthwhile activities, including helping small businesses with grant applications, insurance claims and the like.

Editor: You mention transactional lawyers. In my experience, there have always been plenty of things for litigators to do in the pro bono arena. Finding projects for, say, corporate lawyers can be something of a challenge.

Krane: You have to be creative in two respects. First, you have to convince your colleagues that they are lawyers first and specialists second and that they are quite capable of doing a variety of things. I am sure that I could learn to draft a will - it's a question of taking the time to learn - and that a transactional lawyer can learn how to litigate. In connection with the Rockefeller resentencing project, we structured our training program so that interested transactional lawyers could become involved. This has proven to be very popular.

Second, it is important to find pro bono opportunities suited for transactional lawyers. We handle considerable work for non-profit organizations on a pro bono basis. This includes organizations and incorporations, §501(c)(3) tax-exemption applications, financings, leases and general business advice. We do much of the same in the micro-enterprise arena. Twice a month lawyers from our Personal Planning Department meet with clients from the Gay Men's Health Crisis to provide estate planning and testamentary services. We provide a similar service to members of the armed forces heading overseas. There is plenty of work out there, and locating it is not particularly difficult.

Editor: How is the program structured? Is there a firmwide policy, or does each office have a certain autonomy as to the projects it will entertain?

Krane: There is more centralization since I assumed the chairmanship. All pro bono projects must be approved by me, as well as by our New Business Committee. Each office has a pro bono coordinator, and together we constitute an international coordinating group. Also, each of the firm's departments has a coordination structure through which partners supervise particular projects. At the same time, however, there is considerable autonomy when it comes to implementation and execution of an undertaking.

Editor: How do you handle the situation where a pro bono matter turns out to demand much more time than originally anticipated?

Krane: We simply deal with it. There is no specified limit on the amount of time that a Proskauer lawyer may devote to a pro bono matter. When we take on a pro bono project, that client is entitled to the same quality of legal representation as a paying client. If the matter turns out to consume more resources than expected, so be it. We will do whatever is necessary to see the matter through to conclusion.

Editor: What is the connection between pro bono activities and the professional development of young attorneys?

Krane: We feel so strongly about pro bono work that we have a pro bono project requirement for each first-year associate. They can choose among a number of categories. The various organizations that provide us with many of our pro bono undertakings make a presentation from which the new associate then chooses. There are many different projects, but the menu consists of three or four types of activity. This enables the associate to focus on something with which he or she may have some familiarity and a comfort level or on something quite new and challenging. It also gives the associate an opportunity to do some front-line work with significant responsibility. Dealing with clients in a one-on-one setting and arguing in court are things that he or she might not get to do as a very junior lawyer. The pro bono experience can be an early introduction to the concept that our clients are real people and our work has very real consequences. In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that our associates quickly take ownership of the pro bono matters they accept. And ownership is something that serves to accelerate their professional development. Invariably, they come back for more.

Editor: Is there anything you would like to add?

Krane: We have been talking about associates, but at Proskauer we attempt to engage everyone, partners, counsel, associates, even our clerical and support staff, in pro bono activities. We are striving for 100 percent participation. In addition to everything else, it is important for us to acknowledge that, in light of the privileged position lawyers occupy in our society, all of us have a special responsibility to try to satisfy the unmet need for legal services that is present and appears to be growing in many of our communities. The legal profession must be willing to take on this responsibility so that we can maintain the respect of the public.

Please email the interviewee at skrane@proskauer.com with questions about this interview.