Jones Day's Pro Bono Program: A Hands-On Experience

Sunday, August 1, 2004 - 01:00
Robert H. Klonoff

Editor: Would you tell us something about your career?

Since graduating from law school, I've been a litigator. After several years of government service and teaching, I joined Jones Day in 1989 to help initiate the firm's appellate and United States Supreme Court practice. I became a partner in 1991, in which capacity I was at the firm until 2003, when I joined the faculty at the University of Missouri Law School. At present, I am Independent Of Counsel at Jones Day.

Editor: Throughout your career you have managed to combine a very busy law firm practice with a career in the academic world. How do you handle all of the things you do?

There are times when it entails a lot of juggling. The two aspects of my career work very well together. My expertise is in the area of class actions, and that is what I teach in law school. Being in a classroom setting requires me to be on top of all of the latest developments in the field and, at the same time, I think my practical experience is of real value to my students.

Editor: How were you drawn to pro bono activities?

Just out of law school I was assigned the position of lead lawyer in a prisoner class action. It was an extraordinary responsibility for someone so new to the profession, an opportunity that I would never have had on a compensated matter, and the experience was very rewarding. In addition to everything else, I found a great deal of satisfaction in being able to give something back to the community. This feeling has stayed with me throughout my career.

Editor: You are the chair of Jones Day's pro bono activities. Please tell us what this entails.

Each Jones Day office has its own pro bono coordinator, a position I held at the Washington office for many years. As chief administrator of the program, it is my job to see that the firm's pro bono policies are applied on a firmwide basis, to handle publicity on the firm's pro bono activities and deal with the press, attend conferences, and so on. I hasten to add, I have a great deal of help from the individual coordinators at the various Jones Day offices.

Editor: How does this responsiblity connect to the other hats you wear - as a litigator at the firm and as a scholar?

The firm has always taken the position that pro bono work is extremely important. They are very supportive of my efforts and go to considerable lengths to see that the appropriate resources - both personnel and otherwise - are allocated to pro bono activities. There is a real recognition that these activities constitute a training ground for young attorneys at the firm, in addition to showcasing the firm as a good citizen and a contributing member of the community. That is precisely the reasoning that prevails in the academic world. My law school is well aware of the fact that pro bono projects provide an opportunity for the students to do things that they would otherwise not undertake until years into their career. It is also understood that these activities constitute the students' introduction to the concept of community service, something that should inform their entire careers. For many years law schools have understood their obligation to convey to their students a sense of commitment to pro bono activities and - just as with law firms - meeting that obligation enhances the reputation and standing of the institution in the public eye. The synergies here are very good.

Editor: Please tell us about some of the pro bono successes the firm has enjoyed in recent years.

At the outset let me say that we try to track our pro bono activities. We maintain a statistical record. During the period that I have served as head of this program on a firmwide basis, total pro bono - as defined by the ABA - hours have gone from just under 10,000 in 1999 to over 54,000 in 2003 in our U.S. offices. The firm has grown over that period, of course, but nothing like 500%.

Editor: What would prompt such a change?

Better record keeping is a part of it. One of the things I attempted to implement when I became chair involved keeping track of the hours that are spent on pro bono activities. There had been a sense that since the firm was not being paid for this work, there was no real need to document it. Of course, that meant that Jones Day did not come off too well next to firms that were meticulous in their record keeping. In addition, our Managing Partner, Steve Brogan, has conveyed to everyone at Jones Day his strong commitment to pro bono activities, and that has served to energize the firm in this regard. We have also brought in new programs, including an appellate practice program that enables our attorneys to appear before one of the Circuit Courts of Appeals on a pro bono case. A number of things have come together to underscore the firm's commitment to public service.

I am sure that some of the high-profile successes we have had in recent years have contributed to the momentum of our pro bono program. In Gordon v. Gonzalez, we represented Juken Gordon, an inmate incarcerated in federal prison. He had been beaten and threatened with death, and he claimed a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment against him, but the defendants were forced to confess error after reviewing our appellate brief to the Third Circuit. In another federal court inmate representation case, Clement v. Terhune, lawyers from our San Francisco office, together with the ACLU and the Prison Law Office, are representing an inmate challenging the constitutionality of a California Department of Corrections policy prohibiting inmates from receiving anything in the mail that has been printed from the Internet. The attorneys have convinced the district court to issue a permanent injunction against the policy on the ground that it is irrational and serves no legitimate state interest. The Department of Corrections has appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

One of the particularly well-publicized cases we've handled derives from the February 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy. Lawyers from our Washington office have assumed day-to-day representation of the Space Shuttle Children's Trust Fund, and as a result Jones Day has been sought out by the organizers of the Armed Forces Children's Educational Fund, which is a nonprofit organization set up to help provide for the educational needs of children of American military personnel who have died in the fight against terrorism.

Editor: How do you go about recruiting for your various pro bono projects?

From time to time I speak at meetings about the different matters on the pro bono agenda. We also have an ongoing series of luncheons at which lawyers who are involved in these matters talk about their experiences. Very often lawyers will come to me, or to the pro bono coordinator at their office, with a pro bono proposal on their own initiative. We certainly do not have a problem staffing the different pro bono projects.

Editor: Jones Day is one of a handful of truly global law firms. To what extent does the pro bono program extend to its offices overseas?

Pro bono work is not unique to American legal culture, but it is true that these efforts overseas have lagged behind those we conduct on an ongoing basis out of our U.S. offices. We have begun to do a few things in London and other international locations, and it is my intention to try to increase this activity.

Editor: Are pro bono hours treated the same way as billable hours?

Yes. More importantly, the lawyers working on pro bono cases are evaluated in the same way that they are in connection with a compensated matter. People have advanced in the firm, and even made partner, as a direct consequence of their pro bono accomplishments. This is a reflection of how important the firm feels pro bono service to be, and how important it is in the professional development of a lawyer. I am certainly in a position, as a litigator, to say that the quality of experience and the opportunity to develop courtroom skills that are available by way of pro bono service can be literally priceless for a young lawyer on his or her way up.

Editor: What do you do when a pro bono case begins to entail too much of a commitment of time and resources?

From time to time that does happen. Once we accept a case, however, we have ethical obligations irrespective of whether it is a compensated matter or not. We try, therefore, to look at a case before taking it on to see if it is going to drain the firm's resources without much chance of success. Very often we will take on a particular phase of a death penalty case rather than assume responsibility for the entire matter, something that might go on for many years.

Editor: Would you tell us about the connection between pro bono work and firm morale?

I think there is an extraordinary connection, particularly for younger lawyers, although it is by no means limited to them. When I recruit at law schools for the firm, it is the pro bono program I am asked about. They want to take pride in the firm they choose to join, and it is in the pro bono activities of the firm that they find the values they seek. We have a wonderful story to tell, and we take pride in telling it. I am always careful to add that we do pro bono work because we enjoy doing it, because helping someone in need results in enormous gratification, because it is the right thing to do, and only incidentally because it results in good publicity for the firm.

Editor: How do these pro bono activities play with the firm's clients?

Very well. I find companies are increasingly interested in a firm's pro bono program when they are considering retaining the firm. Indeed, it is part of the evolution of corporate America's legal culture that companies are beginning to offer pro bono opportunities to their law department people. Perhaps we will be able to partner with our clients' in-house attorneys in the future.

Editor: What about the future? Where do you wish to take this program?

As I have indicated, pro bono work at the international level needs attention. I would also like to see more lawyers involved. Our hours are excellent, but not everyone participates. I think that is a pity because what one receives from this kind of service is so much greater than what one gives to it. That is something I would hope to extend to everyone in the firm, from entry-level associate to senior partner and, indeed, to all of our staff, professional and non-professional.

Please email the interviewee at with questions about this interview.