Pro Bono Service: Whether Performed On A Public Stage Or In The Shadows, An Exhilarating Experience

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 00:00

Editor: Mr. Mayer, would you tell us something about your professional experience?

Mayer: I am a partner at Goodwin Procter in the Business Law Department, and I have been at the firm for twenty-three years. I began my career with a Washington firm and developed a litigation and regulatory practice there. When I moved to Boston and joined Goodwin Procter in 1983, I focused my practice on the financial services industry and, in particular, on the representation of financial institutions. My practice has largely reflected trends in the banking industry over the years. As a result, my work has included public offerings, mergers and acquisitions and restructurings, as well as a steady stream of bank regulatory and related work for national, regional and community based financial institutions. Now I often serve as outside general counsel for publicly-held and other financial institutions. I have also taken on more administrative responsibilities at the firm, including serving as chair and now co-chair of our Pro Bono Committee.

Editor: Speaking of which, Goodwin Procter is celebrated for its pro bono work. Could you give us an overview of the firm's pro bono culture?

Mayer: Pro bono work and public service have been a part of Goodwin Procter since it was founded in 1912. In Boston, where the firm originated, we consider ourselves to be among the leading firms in the pro bono area. As the firm has expanded nationally, our pro bono program has grown and developed. Notwithstanding this evolution, I believe that the firm's pro bono culture has remained a constant. As a group, our attorneys have a strong sense of responsibility. The firm's pro bono work is a reflection of the interests of individual attorneys, and so the initiatives we undertake are varied. In the litigation area, we handle a number of civil rights, asylum and criminal law matters. In the transactional area, we work with a large variety of nonprofit organizations, as well as with inner-city entrepreneurs. We place an emphasis on individual energy and initiative, but at the same time, and in recent years in particular, I think the firm has done a good job of making a wide range of opportunities available to meet our attorneys' varied interests.

Editor: Does the program have any particular focus?

Mayer: We are always on the look-out for pro bono opportunities in areas where we have special expertise and where we can have the greatest impact. Aside from that, however, we are interested in providing our lawyers with opportunities across a range of different areas that match their interests and skills. We also like to find opportunities for attorneys to team, particularly attorneys in different offices.

Editor: Does the firm have any affiliations with community organizations?

Mayer: We have strong working relationships with a variety of legal services and nonprofit organizations, including those in the areas of civil rights, the arts, asylum law, criminal defense, affordable housing, education and homelessness. Our lawyers sit on the governing boards of a number of these nonprofit and legal services organizations, which, of course, further strengthens our relationships.

Editor: It used to be easier to find pro bono opportunities for litigators than for transactional lawyers. Has that been the case for the Goodwin Procter program?

Mayer: We have been fortunate in identifying a wide range of nonprofit charitable organizations with legal needs which involve both litigation and non-litigation assistance. Intellectual property and employment law support appear to be in particular demand at present, and this affords us the chance to involve many of our IP, corporate, employment and benefits lawyers in pro bono work. We have also taken a number of outreach initiatives to provide our business law expertise to meet the needs of small businesses in the inner-city of Boston.

Editor: How do you handle the hours that your lawyers devote to pro bono service? Do they count the same as billable hours?

Mayer: Our policy is to credit the hours that our lawyers devote to pro bono service the same way we credit billable hours. Pro bono service counts for all purposes, including for purposes of compensation and evaluation for professional development.

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

Mayer: All of our matters are supervised by a partner who is expected to manage the case from the standpoint of both the quality of the work and the efficiency with which it is being conducted. When a matter becomes more complicated and consumes more time than originally anticipated, we have the ability to restructure staffing and bring other resources from within the firm - in terms of both expertise and personnel - if necessary. Fortunately the firm possesses those resources.

Editor: Would you tell us about the firm's externships?

Mayer: One of the ways in which we expand opportunities for our non-litigators is through externships. At the moment we have two. The first is with the Trust for Public Land ("TPL"), where we assign a lawyer for a fixed term, usually three or four months, and that attorney works on site at TPL's office. We have a similar arrangement with the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston. The firm also sponsors two simultaneous six-month externships at the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office. This is a great opportunity for our litigation associates to gain courtroom experience. In each instance, we pay the externs' salary and benefits, maintain their office at the firm and provide support services for the work they are performing for the organization.

Editor: Are these always for a fixed term?

Mayer: That depends on the needs of the organization and the resources that we can make available. We do not adhere to a rigid timeframe, although we have discovered that a worthwhile externship experience usually entails a minimum period of three to four months, depending upon the organization. We have been successful so far, and that has encouraged us to be as flexible as possible so far as the term is concerned.

Editor: I understand the firm now has an international dimension to its pro bono program.

Mayer: We have been handling a large number of requests for assistance from domestic nonprofit organizations with a focus on international programs. An example of one such organization is a nonprofit which develops and sells practical technology, such as irrigation pumps, brick kilns and sunflower oil presses, for rural populations in less developed countries. We have also been active in the micro-finance area with organizations which leverage private capital to facilitate small business loans to impoverished people, mostly women, in developing countries. In addition, we have provided financial services legal assistance to the governments of less developed countries through various international agencies.

Editor: How does the firm's pro bono program play with clients?

Mayer: In recent years clients appear to have taken a greater interest in our pro bono activities. In part, this is the result of better communication about what we have done and what we are doing. We publish an annual pro bono report that is both comprehensive and readable. And the clients have responded to it in a very positive way. In a few areas, we have also been able to partner with our clients on specified pro bono efforts.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about the connection between pro bono service and firm morale?

Mayer: I am encouraged by the response of our lawyers to the pro bono opportunities that the firm has made available. We frequently receive very positive feedback as attorneys complete pro bono projects, and many of our attorney alumni have commented on how much satisfaction they have derived from being able to participate in our pro bono program.

Editor: I gather that at the other end of that equation you have found the program extremely valuable in recruiting recent law graduates and young laterals.

Mayer: Yes, I am invariably asked about the program when interviewing candidates for attorney positions, both at the lateral level and those just graduating from law school. In addition, I believe we have done a good job in making a variety of pro bono opportunities available to our summer associates. They have been extremely enthusiastic, and since we have enjoyed great success in bringing many of them back as full-time associates, I have to think that the pro bono work has been a factor.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about the personal rewards of pro bono service?

Mayer: Anyone who has ever been involved in pro bono work will tell you that the opportunity to make a difference to an individual in need, or to an organization trying to help people in need, results - in the end - in making a real difference to the person privileged to be called upon to provide that service. Such undertakings constitute real career highlights. Pro bono work can be exhilarating, and whether the effort is on a public stage and garners a great deal of applause, or is pursued very quietly and is known only to those being helped, it engenders an enormous sense of pride and satisfaction. Much of this work is not glamorous, and it can entail a great deal of drudgery and hard work. All of which is rendered eminently worthwhile because typically, but for your effort, a critical need for legal services would go unmet: someone might not have been able to salvage their business after a fire, or a worthy individual might have been denied asylum, or been convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and so on. In terms of personal reward, there is nothing quite like pro bono service.

Please email the interviewee at wmayer@goodwinprocter.com with questions about this interview.