Based on the initial success of its revitalized and restructured pro bono program, the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP has decided to set the bar higher and, by so doing, offer an example other firms might follow.
A new pro bono policy adopted by the firm's Management Committee seeks to involve every attorney at Weil Gotshal - from first-year associates to senior partners - in the firm's pro bono efforts.
"Weil Gotshal is a great law firm, but we aspire to be something more: a great institution," said Steven A. Reiss, chairman of the firm's Pro Bono Committee. "That means going beyond professional excellence to being a model in providing assistance that positively impacts the civic life of our communities."
The almost unprecedented commitment by Weil's lawyers to pro bono services has even caught the eye of a UK-based legal news service, thelawyer.com, which recently interviewed Nick Flynn, an associate with the firm's London office.Weil's London team is a top pro bono performer within the firm and in the UK legal community, winning several awards for its outstanding work.
As part of its effort to revitalize its pro bono service, Weil Gotshal in 2004 formed a Pro Bono Committee, involving partners and associates from every one of the firm's 20 offices and from each practice group, to coordinate pro bono efforts and maximize the impact of the firm's pro bono work.
The firm also hired Miriam Buhl as its full-time pro bono counsel. With extensive executive experience in the nonprofit arena, she is responsible for developing new pro bono opportunities and partnerships for the firm. She previously served as state director of the New York Chapter of the March of Dimes and as executive director of The New York Women's Foundation.
Ms. Buhl's arrival was greeted enthusiastically within the firm. "It's a real step-change in the way in which a major law firm is dealing with this issue," said Nick Flynn in his interview with thelawyer.com. "She is there to embed our relationships with other institutions in the charity and pro bono field and, rather like a partner who is head of corporate or head of banking, she is there with responsibility for setting the strategy and targets for pro bono."
The revitalization program launched in 2004 resulted in a 60 percent increase in Weil Gotshal's pro bono hours.
To ensure continued pro bono success, Weil Gotshal's new pro bono policy includes the goal that every lawyer in the firm provide 50 hours of pro bono work each year; the expectation that every partner take or supervise at least one pro bono matter each year, and the requirement that every entering lawyer - from first-year associate to lateral partner - take at least one pro bono matter during his or her first two years at the firm. The firm believes the pro bono requirement for entering lawyers may be a first in the industry.
"Developing our new policy and hiring Miriam were important steps in a larger endeavor to make the firm's pro bono work a model for the profession," Mr. Reiss said recently. "The long-term goal of our new pro bono policyis to set a standard that other firms can emulate."
The firm's renewed dedication to providing pro bono services to those with unmet legal needs hasn't gone unnoticed. Weil Gotshal has been the recipient of more than a dozen awards recently to acknowledge the firm's efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged or under-represented.
"We take great pride in these successes, especially those in service to our communities' neediest members," said Stephen J. Dannhauser, chairman of the firm. "We know that 'justice for all' begins with each of us taking seriously the professional obligation we share as lawyers."