Pro Bono Partnership Honors Nine Attorneys, Corporations

Thursday, May 1, 2008 - 01:00

In celebration of a decade of pro bono legal assistance to more than 1,100 Connecticut, New York and New Jersey nonprofit organizations, the Pro Bono Partnership has honored nine corporations and attorneys for their outstanding commitment to the Partnership and its clients over the past 10 years.

Nearly 300 attorneys, supporters and clients gathered for a gala reception at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City on March 13 to celebrate the Partnership's accomplishments and to recognize the recipients of the Partnership's First Decade Awards for pro bono service.

Extraordinary Service Awards were presented to General Electric Company, represented by Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brackett B. Denniston III, and to Toni Anne Nichels, employment & HR counsel, Xerox Corporation.

Honored with Distinguished Service Awards were Honeywell International, Inc. (Peter M. Kreindler, senior vice president and general counsel); Prudential Financial (Susan L. Blount, senior vice president and general counsel); Schering-Plough Corporation (Thomas Sabatino Jr., executive vice president and general counsel), and attorneys Leonard D. Andrew, retired associate general counsel, IBM Corporation; Lee Braem, senior corporate counsel and deputy compliance officer, Evonik Degussa Corporation; Susan Corcoran, Jackson Lewis LLP, and Anahaita Kotval, managing director and general counsel, RBS Greenwich Capital.

"It seems like yesterday that I met with Bob Healing, corporate counsel at GE, and other leaders from the Westchester Fairfield Corporate Bar Fund to create a program that would engage in-house corporate attorneys in pro bono work on behalf of local nonprofit organizations," said Rick Hobish, the Partnership's executive director."Responding to the call to provide free legal assistance to local nonprofits, many leaders in the corporate legal community quickly embraced the Partnership's mission and encouraged their legal staffs to take on pro bono projects."

General Electric has been the most pivotal and influential force since the Partnership's inception. In 1997, with the encouragement and support of then General Counsel Ben Heineman, Mr. Healing conceptualized a program to tap into the wealth of talent represented by corporate legal departments. The two championed participation by GE's large in-house legal staff and led the way in sustaining and expanding the Partnership in its early years. Mr. Denniston has continued in this tradition with enthusiasm and is widely recognized as a leader in promoting pro bono service.

Honeywell, Prudential and Schering-Plough advocated for the Partnership's expansion to New Jersey in 2000. Their financial and programmatic support has facilitated that program's success. They have provided the Partnership, not only with funding, but with active board members and numerous volunteers. "Most importantly," says Hobish, "they have set an example for other corporations and law firms, many of which now participate in the New Jersey program."

Ms. Nichels is the Partnership's most prolific volunteer. She has handled dozens of employment-related issues, the area of greatest client demand for assistance. Not only is Ms. Nichels regularly available for client matters, but she also provides invaluable institutional support to the Partnership, championing its relationship with Xerox, where she is the Pro Bono Coordinator, and encouraging other employment lawyers in the region to get involved. Ms. Nichels has been the featured presenter at more than a dozen Partnership workshops on employment issues. She particularly enjoys the workshops because they give her the ability to help a large number of organizations at one time.

Mr. Andrew, Mr.Braem, Ms. Corcoran and Ms. Kotval are also notable for the breadth and depth of their commitment. Mr. Andrew, now retired from IBM, has volunteered hundreds of hours to handle complicated matters, conducted outreach to numerous clients engaged in important community work and is the primary editor of the Partnership's online Employment Law Manual, a comprehensive resource on employment issues."I would encourage others approaching retirement to continue to use their skills by volunteering with the Partnership," Mr. Andrew said. "It will sharpen your mind."

Mr. Braem also is President of the New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association and a board member of the Environmental Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association. He has been one of the Partnership's most active volunteers since the New Jersey program started. He has provided counsel to more than 20 organizations and seeks out new clients without waiting to be asked. "Lee is always willing to take on the most complicated and time-consuming projects," Mr. Hobish said.

Ms. Corcoran was one of the Partnership's first volunteers and has been one of its most committed pro bono attorneys ever since. The Partnership particularly appreciates Corcoran's willingness to make herself available to clients in immediate need of counsel, a common occurrence when employment issues arise. Ms. Corcoran also serves as a resource to the Partnership's in-house legal staff and represents many nonprofit organizations addressing the needs of children and families.

Since 2001, Ms. Kotval has handled 25 matters for Partnership clients that provide affordable housing, economic development and health services. My Sister's Place, an organization assisting victims of domestic violence, has become her special project, however, and in 2007, she joined their board. Instead of spending money on legal fees, "I'd rather see them spend money helping battered women," Ms. Kotval said.