Pfizer's Commitment To Pro Bono: Giving Back To The Community A Top Priority

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Margaret M. Foran, Senior Vice President Corporate Governance, Associate General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Pfizer Inc., and Jean A. O'Hare, Senior Corporate Counsel and fulltime Pro Bono Counsel of Pfizer Inc.

Editor: How do you see Pfizer Legal Division's pro bono efforts fitting into a bigger picture?

Foran: Support for the community is at the heart of Pfizer's Vision and Values, and our pro bono efforts fit right into that. In every place we operate, we try to improve the community.

As a company, we are very focused on corporate social responsibility and here, too, pro bono fits nicely into our overall commitment. One of my areas in governance is making sure that we strive to be an exemplary corporate citizen. Citizenship defines our role in local and global communities and how we strive to conduct business responsibly in a changing world. This helps us in a lot of ways too - sure it's good for our brand name, but also for our employees. They are proud to be part of an institution that really does care and gives back to the community.

Editor: I know you do a lot of work with the investor community. Does pro bono make any difference regarding their perception of Pfizer?

Foran: It does, to the extent that investors can see that we're living our values, that we are what we say we are and that we want to contribute to make the community a better place. Investors also recognize that the employees are proud to be here, and that good morale tends to strengthen an organization. Most investors are looking for the subtle signs of what good institutions are and being a good corporate citizen is one of the things they look to. But we are not a good corporate citizen simply because we want the investor community to think more highly of us. We are just trying to be true to who we are.

Editor: Can you describe the scope of the Legal Division's involvement in pro bono?

Foran: While the Pfizer Legal Division has always been actively involved in pro bono, 9/11 was a turning point for us. That event, which affected us all so profoundly, led to our taking a much more proactive and expansive definition of what pro bono is. Another impetus for us doing more pro bono was Jeff Kindler's assuming leadership of the Legal Division. With his history of involvement in many pro bono activities, he challenged us to think in a broader scope and aspect. We began actively seeking out ways we could make a difference beyond the contributions of individual Pfizer colleagues to representation of the underserved.

Editor: What is your overall approach to pro bono?

Foran: Our strategy is to make the community of nonprofits stronger, because by doing that we are making a difference in the infrastructure that helps those most in need. We also have a particular interest in improving access to healthcare because it enables us to apply our legal expertise and business knowledge where it can have the most impact. Those are the two principal themes of our pro bono efforts.

Editor: Jean, can you tell us how the Strategic Legal Thinking for Not-for-Profit Executives Seminar Series began?

O'Hare: To realize our goal of making nonprofits stronger, we started offering seminars to nonprofits on legal issues to help them identify areas that could be troublesome. Once a nonprofit has been sensitized to legal issues, it can seek appropriate legal advice when needed.

We created these seminars in partnership with United Way of New York City, inviting nonprofits that received United Way funding. In developing the content, we partnered with nonprofits in New York City that were already providing legal services to other nonprofits; we also asked for help from New York law firms. So the seminars became a joint effort on the part of Pfizer and these legal advisory nonprofits to provide other nonprofits with the information they needed on a variety of legal issues: employment law, insurance, corporate governance, real estate and lobbying issues, among others.

Editor: On an individual basis, what are some of the projects in which your attorneys are involved?

Foran: Legal Division colleagues participate in three different ways. Pfizer lawyers sit on boards of organizations such as Equal Justice Works, LIFT and Fedcap. Some volunteer their services to the Strategic Legal Thinking Seminars. Others provide direct support for programs such as the Pro Bono Adoption project. And, on an individual basis, there is widespread involvement with organizations ranging from the American Red Cross to the United Way. Not only attorneys, but everyone in the Legal Division, gets involved, and Pfizer supports all of these activities. People at this company take support for community values very very seriously.

Editor: Is the Legal Division involved in pro bono projects outside New York City?

O'Hare: In Connecticut, Pfizer also offers Strategic Legal Thinking Seminars. There, we partner with different legal advisory nonprofits from those in NY. The seminars are offered in Hartford, New Haven, and Mystic. In La Jolla, California, in lieu of seminars, we offer one-on-one pro bono counseling; there, Pfizer attorneys almost become business advisors.

We have attorneys whose pro bono is focused on international matters such as the Pakistan earthquake and Indonesian tsunami relief. We also do legal work for an AIDS organization called the Academic Alliance Foundation. Pfizer helped the AAF build a facility in Uganda where doctors and nurses can learn how to treat AIDS and HIV; Legal provided pro bono counseling on contracts, etc. In addition, this year we partnered with local United Ways, our outside counsel and local legal service providers to offer videoconferences of the Strategic Legal Thinking Seminars in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, New Orleans, Florida and Washington, DC.

Editor: Jean, can you tell us about the Angels Project?

O'Hare: The Angels Project started right after 9/11. The Legal Aid Society had been displaced and didn't have offices. The City Bar Fund and the Lawyers Alliance were severely impacted by the sudden increase in the need for their services, making it difficult for them to meet the needs of the community. Pro bono coordinators at Pfizer and some of the city's law firms all began to talk about how their organizations could help. So Pfizer hosted a lunch where the legal service providers and pro bono coordinators met to talk about how the private sector could help. This covered everything from making 500 copies of a training manual, to finding temporary space for Legal Aid, to encouraging law firms to assign their attorneys and paralegals to help with the huge number of cases following September 11. By the end of the lunch, many of those needs had either been met or plans to meet them were put in place.

Since then, Pfizer has hosted numerous Angels lunches where the pro bono legal service providers, like Legal Aid, come with a wish list. The pro bono coordinators from law firms and corporations take those lists and try to meet those needs, donating directly to the legal service providers. Pfizer doesn't get in the middle: it simply has a lunch and makes it possible for everyone to network. Sometimes "gifting" occurs right at the lunch itself.

After Katrina, Pfizer arranged some "Angels conference calls," reaching out to pro bono coordinators from around the country and nonprofit legal service providers from states affected by Katrina to discuss what was needed. This resulted in a number of significant items being donated including the making of a "plain English" video on insurance issues and the establishment of the Katrina Pfizer Loyola Fellow to coordinate law school volunteers in New Orleans.

Editor: We understand Pfizer is planning a third Access-to-Healthcare Conference. Can you tell us about Access-to-Healthcare?

O'Hare: Access-to-Healthcare is one of our newer, and truly very large and remarkable projects, started three years ago. We hold a national conference for pro bono legal service providers and law school professors with clinical programs from around the country that have or are contemplating access-to-healthcare programs (programs for the poor, the uninsured, and the underinsured). The purpose of the conference is to help build healthcare or access-to-healthcare programs that fit the needs of each community, whether it is a program to deal with healthcare for the homeless, or cancer advocacy, or HIV/ AIDS. One measure of the success of the conferences is the number of new programs started or the expansion of existing programs into new areas. This year's conference will again be moderated by Sara Rosenbaum, who is the Dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health. Eighteen law firms have volunteered to work with us and provide pro bono legal advice in the access-to-healthcare area.

Foran: This program is very much in synch with Pfizer overall. As a corporate entity Pfizer has many programs that are focused on providing access to healthcare and medications to people who can't afford them. For example, Pfizer partnered with the State of Florida in a "healthy directions" program. On a broader level, Pfizer Helpful Answers is an umbrella program for all the Pfizer patient assistance programs and discount programs that help to address the challenge of providing access to needed Pfizer prescription medicines for the uninsured.

Editor: Can you tell us about the Pro Bono Adoption Project?

O'Hare: At one point, Judge Joseph Lauria let it be known that there were a lot of children in foster care and a lot of parents who wanted to adopt them - but who didn't have a lawyer to facilitate the adoption. Chief Judge Judith Kaye asked the private bar to come forward to fix the problem. Pfizer called a number of law firm pro bono coordinators, and sought the assistance of two nonprofits: Legal Aid and MFY. Legal Aid already had expertise in representing children in many of the City's adoptions. MFY was a logical choice because its private funding meant that it could represent foster parents regardless of severity of economic need. As a result, a number of law firms, the two nonprofits and Pfizer launched the first successful Pro Bono Adoption Project in New York City. The project received a lot of recognition, including a special Golden Heart Award from the Commissioner for the Administration for Children's Services.

Editor: How important is outside counsel participation in pro bono to Pfizer?

Foran: It's one of the criteria we use when we're looking for outside counsel. We want to make sure their values are aligned with our values. So we expect our outside counsel to do the same quality work on pro bono matters as they do on their other matters. We consistently reach out to them for support.

Editor: We know the Pfizer Legal Division has also been recognized for its diversity initiative. Do you see any relationship between what you are doing as relates to pro bono and what you are doing as relates to diversity?

Foran: Our commitment to diversity also speaks to Pfizer values and is integrated into our overall approach to pro bono. As with everything we do at Pfizer, we're making sure that we serve our diverse workforce and the diverse populations of all of our communities. This goes hand in hand with who we are.

Editor: Pfizer was recognized by Legal Aid, the ABA and the Pro Bono Institute for creating the prototype corporate pro bono program. Can you elaborate on this?

Foran: We are, of course, very pleased that we have received this recognition. What sets us apart is that doing pro bono reflects our business values and goals and that our leadership has bought into the program by dedicating resources (which include a formalized internal program and the allocation of sufficient budget dollars to make that effective). This has enabled us to pro-actively push the boundaries of the formal definition of pro bono.

We are a company where corporate citizenship and community involvement have been among our most cherished and deeply rooted values since our founding in 1849. Our desire to play an active role worldwide in making every community in which we operate a better place aligns perfectly with our commitment to pro bono.

Pfizer's legal department was among the first to become a charter signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge - and has asked our law firms to help us meet that challenge. Today we're looking to foster pro bono throughout the legal community. Because of our corporate culture, coupled with the leadership of Jeff Kindler, we've become missionaries in trying to get the word out to other legal departments and to encourage our law firms to be as active as possible.