Lowenstein Sandler: A Continuing Commitment To Pro Bono Service

Sunday, August 1, 2004 - 01:00
Robert C. Boneberg

Editor: How long have you been the Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at the firm?

I became the Chair in January 2004.

Editor: What does the Pro Bono Committee do and what is your role as Chair?

The Committee recommends pro bono policies, goals, and strategies for the firm, and oversees their implementation. In addition, the Committee screens and approves each proposed pro bono matter as it comes into the firm. As Chair, I am responsible for ensuring that the Committee attends to its tasks and for monitoring the various administrative procedures that attend our pro bono program. I also speak with and meet with agencies and people outside the firm who are interested in and who are seeking information about our pro bono program. This includes potential clients of the firm who, from time to time, call the firm and ask to speak to the person in charge of pro bono.

Editor: What is your greatest challenge as the new Chair?

To maintain the momentum in pro bono service that has been the hallmark of Lowenstein Sandler for many years. Beginning with our founding partner, Alan Lowenstein, generations of Lowenstein Sandler attorneys have made personal commitments to pro bono service. Year after year, dozens of attorneys in the firm, both directors and associates, have taken on and achieved outstanding results in pro bono matters that are in the public eye and in many more matters that are known only to the interested parties. The great challenge for me is to facilitate the firm's provision of pro bono services and not to interfere with a long standing successful program.

Editor: Had you participated in the firm's pro bono activities before you became Chair of the Committee?

No, in fact, I only joined the firm as a director in the New York office in June 2003. Since I was new to the firm and new to the Committee, I had the opportunity to see and appreciate the firm's pro bono activities with no preconceived ideas as to what the program was or should be.

Editor: And what did you find?

I found a program that is at the center of the firm's identity. One of the things that every new attorney at Lowenstein Sandler learns upon arrival, whether as a director or as an associate, is that the firm and its attorneys are committed to pro bono service. The firm has been heavily involved in pro bono activities since its founding. I found that the current leaders in the firm, such as the current Chair of the Litigation Department, David L. Harris, also have been leaders in the firm's pro bono activities. The firm's associates, beginning in their first year, are guided in pro bono activities. I discovered that the firm spends thousands upon thousands of hours of attorney time on pro bono matters each year and that the firm takes on a variety of different matters every year, including the assistance of not-for-profit entities with their corporate issues, the representation of individuals in asylum, discrimination, and landlord-tenant cases, and the representation of classes or groups of individuals in more public matters that might effect an institutional change. And I found that the firm has long-standing relationships with agencies that seek our help for their programs and their clients, agencies such as the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the Education Law Center, Volunteers For Justice, Essex-Newark Legal Services, and Human Rights First.

Editor: Does the firm focus on one area of pro bono activity?

No, in fact, just the opposite is true. Each year the firm undertakes a wide variety of matters. For example, when I joined the firm in June 2003, the firm was in the process of achieving the settlement of a lawsuit that had been pending for several years against the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services( DFYS). The lawsuit was designed to compel the reform of an agency that by all accounts was not serving the children entrusted to its care. The firm spent thousands of hours of attorney time on the case and its settlement was reported in the press. As part of the settlement, DYFS agreed to institute reforms that would be the subject of on-going monitoring, and Lowenstein Sandler agreed to waive its entitlement to a $1,000,000 fee on condition that the State's appropriation to DYFS be increased by the same $1,000,000.

With respect to a matter that was not in the public press, just this year the firm successfully represented a Haitian radio journalist who sought asylum in the United States after being persecuted in Haiti for, among other things, his political opinions.

Editor: How do you recruit attorneys for pro bono work and match them with opportunities?

We act in several ways. We educate attorneys in what may become available. For example, our attorneys know that we often undertake asylum representation for clients referred by Human Rights First. Several attorneys have indicated an interest in this type of work and, to the extent we can, we will attempt to accommodate that interest. In addition, when matters come in that are entirely new to the firm, we will, as necessary, send a message to all attorneys in the firm asking that those with an interest in working on the particular matter respond. In addition, the chairs of the various departments will help identify attorneys who are interested in working on matters in their field. In addition, from time to time, agencies that have had a good experience working with a particular attorney will contact the attorney to inquire as to whether the firm and that particular attorney are available to handle a new matter. Also, each year, we sponsor two one-half year internships at Essex-Newark Legal Services. Every year associates apply for one of the internships, which involves a six month, full-time commitment for the attorney at the Legal Services' office.

Editor: Does the firm restrict the pro bono activities of its associates?

To the contrary, the firm encourages the pro bono activities of its associates, including its summer associates. The hours that associates work on pro bono matters are fully counted for all purposes and there is no limit on the number of pro bono hours that an associate may record in any given year.

Editor: How can we encourage attorneys to do pro bono work?

At Lowenstein Sandler, we undertake significant legal work for our clients regardless of whether that work is described as corporate work, litigation, real estate, tax, or any one of a number of activities that one would expect to find at a full service law firm that is one of the 200 largest in the country. And there is great satisfaction in providing effective and valuable services to our clients and in earning a living while doing so. But in pro bono work, we are often representing those who, if not for us, would have no legal representation; people and groups whose entire future is often dependent on our representation. This level of personal risk and reward, and the resultant impact on the community in which we live and work, is not generally found in the representation of business clients regardless of the amount of money involved. For many attorneys, pro bono work has always been part of their professional lives, and we believe that every attorney at our firm will be enriched by this type of professional community service.
We believe that this experience will be shared by every attorney who engages in pro bono work no matter what firm or corporation or other place he or she might work.

Editor: Does the firm's pro bono activities extend to its New York City office where you are located?

Most definitely. We currently are representing a Queens County church, which has a predominantly Korean congregation, that the City of New York is attempting to evict from the church's commercial condominium in an urban renewal area. This lawsuit presents significant issues concerning not only the Constitutional rights of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly, but also the impact of New York City land use regulations on the church's activities.

Editor: What are the challenges for Lowenstein Sandler's pro bono program in the future?

First, we need to continue to ensure that our pro bono clients receive the most effective representation that we can provide to them. Second, we need to continue to be a resource for the community so that people and groups and agencies will turn to us when they think that there is a matter that we could provide pro bono help on. Third, since we are a large firm with significant resources, it is appropriate to ensure that we undertake those matters that involve a significant commitment of attorney time and other resources that might be beyond the capacity of a small firm or a solo practitioner. Fourth, we would like to work with new agencies and new partners with respect to our pro bono work. For example, we recently have begun working with a Washington, D.C. based agency named Free The Slaves that seeks the eradication of slavery in all its forms wherever it may exist, including the United States. This is a new area of work for our firm, and we are excited about the opportunity to work in this field and with this agency. In sum, our challenge is to build on the base established by so many attorneys at Lowenstein Sandler and to continue to provide our services to those many who are in need.

Please email the interviewee at rboneberg@lowenstein.com with questions about this interview.