Pfizer's "Strategic Legal Thinking" Seminar Series: A Pro Bono Commitment with Lasting Impact

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 01:00

Sean Delany
Lawyers Alliance for New York

Selecting from among the wide variety of pro bono opportunities that can be embraced by corporate legal departments can be a challenge for the managers of those volunteer programs

Pfizer Inc. has developed a successful pro bono model that fits the company's public service agenda and has a lasting impact on the quality of life in neighborhoods in New York City and the metropolitan area. Since 2001, Pfizer Inc, United Way of Tri-State and United Way of New York City have offered free seminars for executive directors and other not-for-profit professionals on legal issues that affect not-for-profit organizations. These seminars represent a commitment, unique in the corporate world, to enhancing the strength and capacity of not-for-profit organizations through legal educational programs. Since its inception, the "Strategic Legal Thinking" seminar series has educated hundreds of not-for-profit managers on practical approaches to the legal challenges that their organizations face every day . These seminars help nonprofits identify important legal issues, knowing their rights and responsibilities and access resources such as pro bono legal services to deal with issues before they become crises. The seminars are organized by Pfizer's Pro Bono Counsel, Jean O'Hare. Pfizer attorneys and professionals participate in every seminar as moderators and panelists.

Lawyers Alliance for New York and the Pro Bono Partnership have both assisted Pfizer in staging the seminar series. Lawyers Alliance provides business and transactional legal services to not-for-profits in New York City; offers seminars for attorneys on nonprofit law; and coordinates the pro bono efforts of attorneys by matching them to not-for-profits seeking legal assistance. The Pro Bono Partnership is a complete legal resource center for nonprofit organizations and attorneys, providing business legal services to nonprofit organizations in Fairfield County, CT, Westchester County, NY and New Jersey, managing volunteer opportunities for transactional attorneys from corporate legal departments and the private bar, and offering legal workshops and publications for nonprofit executives and directors.

In addition, many lawyers from at least 25 law firms have served as faculty in the seminar series. Those firms include:

Arnold & Porter

Barbara B. Lindsay, LLC

Butzel Long

Covington & Burling

Day, Berry & Howard LLP

Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary

Donovan & Yee

Epstein Becker & Green P.C.

Hale and Dorr LLP

Holland & Knight

Jackson Lewis LLP

Kaye Scholer LLP

Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton &

Garrison LLP

Powers & Frost, LLP

Proskauer Rose LLP

Reid & Riege, PC

Robinson & Cole

Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP

Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Occasionally, speakers from other fields, such as the accounting firm Eisner LLP or the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, are recruited to assist in the presentations.

In 2006, the "Strategic Legal Thinking" seminar series was dramatically expanded to reach not-for-profits in seven other cities (Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington, DC) via videoconference. Lawyers Alliance assisted Pfizer in this national expansion of the seminar series by identifying nonprofits which offered transactional legal advice to nonprofits in those cities, and outside counsel from those cities helped to organize the technology, logistics, and local content for the nonprofits attending in each city. .

In 2003, Pfizer Senior Vice President and General Counsel Jeffrey B. Kindler accepted a Cornerstone Award from Lawyers Alliance for outstanding pro bono service in presenting the "Strategic Legal Thinking Seminar Series." The Cornerstone Awards honor outstanding contributions in pro bono service to nonprofit organizations by New York's legal community to improve the quality of life in New York City, and recognize members of the legal community whose pro bono services has had a positive and far-reaching impact. Seldom has a Cornerstone Award been so deserving, because the "Strategic Legal Thinking" seminar series has improved the accountability, capacity, and effectiveness of hundreds of nonprofit groups that are making New York City and the metropolitan area a better place to live and work.

Sean Delany is Executive Director, Lawyers Alliance for New York.