"Doing The Right Thing Is Its Own Reward"

Friday, September 1, 2006 - 01:00
Sally L. Crawford

Editor: Ms. Crawford, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Crawford: Prior to law school I was in the mechanical contracting business and vice president of an international mechanical contracting firm. I went to law school intending to stay with that firm as in-house counsel, but the construction industry was not doing well, and while I was in law school the company went out of business. Following law school I worked for a small firm in Dallas until being approached about a position at Jones Day.

Editor: What were the things that attracted you to Jones Day?

Crawford: One of the distinctive things about Jones Day is its organization. I had been with large corporations, and I was used to organizational coherence. It came as a surprise to me that many law firms are not well organized. Jones Day was not one of them. It was, and is, extremely well organized, and the lawyers practice law while the business people attend to the firm's business activities.

The best thing about the firm, however, is its people. They are why I am still here.

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

Crawford: I started out doing public company work, but that is not what I enjoyed doing. Fortunately, Jones Day allowed me to develop my practice with private companies. I have something of a niche practice here, and, since private companies do not usually have in-house counsel, I have an opportunity to work on a variety of matters and contribute to my clients' profitability and success. This practice has grown over the years, and I am fortunate that the firm has encouraged me to develop it.

Editor: You have also enjoyed a parallel career in the pro bono arena. For starters, how did you get involved in pro bono activities?

Crawford: I knew when I left law school that I wanted to do pro bono work. Through the Dallas Bar Association I became involved in the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, known as DVAP, which runs a number of neighborhood legal clinics. This program provides training, forms and excellent mentoring, and it was a very good experience for a new attorney.

When I arrived at Jones Day, I inquired about the office's pro bono policy. There was provision for a pro bono committee, but one had never been established. Well, a committee was launched, and we explored a number of opportunities. Among our decisions was to connect with DVAP, and we have been staffing their neighborhood legal clinics ever since.

Editor: What have been the highlights of your pro bono work? The most rewarding undertakings?

Crawford: There are certain cases where the clients are really in need, and what we bring them are the most important things in their lives. One case involved a man dying of kidney disease. He wished to obtain a divorce in order to marry the woman he loved, and we were able to accommodate him. He married and, shortly thereafter, died. His widow then called me to tell me how much it had meant to them both to be married before his death. It was a very moving moment.

I did an adoption last year, and that was also gratifying.

I also handled a probate case, where a widow wished to sell her house but could not because her husband's estate - he had died years earlier - had never been probated. I helped her obtain clear title to the house. She was very grateful and broke down in tears after the hearing. I think that touching someone's life in a very personal way is the best attribute of pro bono service.

Editor: Can you give us an overview of the Dallas office's pro bono program?

Crawford: The program here is voluntary, but we offer a variety of opportunities and the response is excellent. Four times a year we staff DVAP's neighborhood legal clinics, and that leads to a wide array of very different cases. This is so well received at the firm that we have included our summer associates in the program, and they are very enthusiastic.

We also take court appointments. We have handled some asylum work, and at the moment we have three immigration cases underway.

We have a detailed policy to treat pro bono clients as we do any other client. Conflicts are checked. On every matter there must be a supervising partner. It is a well-coordinated program, and one which plays very well both within the firm and with all of our external constituencies.

Editor: Are there particular areas - say, representation of the indigent or asylum cases - on which the program is focused?

Crawford: There is no particular focus. We let people decide what it is they wish to do. If a group wants to work on immigration cases, I try to connect them with the right people. As an example, a couple of our attorneys are working in a program started by Angelina Jolie for orphaned refugee children in the U.S. Because our attorneys know the firm is supportive, we have dozens of lawyers engaged in pro bono work. That is very gratifying.

Editor: Litigation has always offered plenty of pro bono opportunities for service. Are you able to provide projects for, say, the transactional lawyers?

Crawford: We have as many transactional lawyers involved in pro bono work as we do litigators. I am a transactional lawyer, of course, and it is helpful when I indicate that a good transactional lawyer has the skills to handle pro bono cases even when they involve some litigation. Through DVAP, training is available, and they also provide excellent mentors, which is especially helpful for the non-litigators.

Apart from litigation, we handle a variety of non-profit organization matters, including incorporation and obtaining tax-exempt status. We have any number of lawyers serving on the governing boards of non-profits such as Family Place, the Dallas Legal Hospice, the Women's Advocacy Center, and the like. Interestingly, there are many litigators who serve in the boardrooms of these charities and non-profit organizations.

Editor: How do you handle the situation where a pro bono project suddenly takes an unexpected turn and the investment of time becomes much greater than originally anticipated?

Crawford: That has happened. We recently handled an asylum case that entailed 1,500 hours and required a large team of lawyers. Fortunately, we possess the resources to meet such a challenge. Another case, which concluded last November, started out as a fairly simple matter for two of our younger litigators. By the time it ended two years later, 26 different time keepers had devoted in excess of 2600 hours to the case. This comes with the territory, and we do not shy away from it. If we had several of these cases at the same time, however, I concede it might be a problem.

Editor: Would you tell us something about the awards that you and the program have garnered recently?

Crawford: The W. Frank Newton Award in 2004 was for the Houston and Dallas offices of the firm, on the nomination of the Dallas Bar Association. This award was special to me because I know Frank Newton personally. He was the Dean of the Texas Tech School of Law, a former President of the Texas State Bar Association and a great supporter of pro bono service. The award honors the firm for its pro bono undertakings in Texas, and it is a very great honor.

Last year the firm received a Gold Award from the Dallas Bar Association. This was for logging the most pro bono hours of any firm our size in Dallas. In 2005, in addition, DVAP named me as their Lawyer of the Year. A number of things contributed to that honor. I have been on the governing board of Legal Aid of Northwest Texas for eight years and a board member of the Community Service Fund of the Dallas Bar, which oversees DVAP. Last year I co-chaired their annual Equal Access campaign.

DVAP also nominated me for the Frank Scurlock Award of the State Bar of Texas. This related to my work in Dallas, including speaking to and mentoring law students and lawyers at a number of different firms about pro bono service.

Editor: Recognition like this does not just happen. Please tell us about the culture at Jones Day that makes this kind of commitment to pro bono service possible.

Crawford: That commitment comes from the top. When Steve Brogan became Managing Partner, he spoke eloquently on the importance of the firm giving back to the communities where we have offices. Each office has its own pro bono coordinator, and we meet annually to share ideas on how best to accomplish our firm-wide goals. And because the senior management of the firm is involved in every aspect of the program, people want to be part of it.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about how a strong pro bono program affects firm morale?

Crawford: Everyone in the firm takes pride in our accomplishments in the pro bono arena, and they take equal pride in belonging to a firm that places such a high value on this work. Pro bono service is a professional obligation, of course, but the real value consists in doing it because it is the right thing to do, not because the Code of Ethics requires it.

Pro bono work projects a wonderful firm image in the community. These efforts let people know that we, too, consider ourselves part of the community and are anxious to contribute. Our clients are very supportive of our activities. They take a certain pride in being associated with a firm that engages in this work, and they are particularly mindful that our efforts are supportive of both their employees and the communities in which they do business.

Another morale-booster derives from getting real responsibility into the hands of our younger attorneys at an early point in their careers. They are dealing directly with clients, arguing cases in court and, indeed, handling life-and-death issues in some instances, and all of this happens at a much earlier stage than they can anticipate with their compensated work. As a consequence of this responsibility, they feel good about themselves and about the firm.

Editor: Is there anything you would like to add?

Crawford: I am very grateful for the recognition I have achieved in this area, and I take a great deal of pride in being part of a firm which places such a high value on this work. These honors simply make you want to do more. That is important. The needs are there, and it seems that there are never enough hands to meet all of them. Striving to meet those needs - perhaps not always succeeding, but always aspiring to succeed - is its own reward.

Please email the interviewee at scrawford@jonesday.com with questions about this interview.