Clients, Culture, and a Commitment to Community?

June 14, 2016

You will be looking at many factors when researching law firms, including top notch legal work and clients. But if you are interested in also finding a firm that shares your vision of having a positive impact on the world and our communities, it is important for you to ask questions to help you find the right place for you. We asked David Lash, O’Melveny’s Managing Counsel for Pro Bono, and Rochelle Karr, O’Melveny’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”), for a Top 10 list of questions to help you evaluate and differentiate between firms in the areas of pro bono and CSR.

1. How does the firm count pro bono hours? Look for a policy that does not differentiate between hours recorded on commercial versus pro bono matters. At O’Melveny, all hours spent on pro bono matters are counted in the very same manner as hours spent on commercial client matters, including bonus consideration, and pro bono clients are treated with the same standards of excellence as our paying clients.

2. Are there limits? Be sure you read the fine print. Some firms will try to limit their lawyers’ participation in pro bono matters by setting up limitations. At O’Melveny, we do not place limits, thresholds, or caps on our pro bono commitment. We encourage lawyers to complete at least 50 hours of pro bono work per year and many of our lawyers contribute much more (our US lawyers average approximately 100 pro bono hours every year, with many logging even more).

3. What administrative support does the firm have for their pro bono program?O’Melveny’s pro bono program is run by two full-time dedicated attorneys with extensive legal aid, poverty law, pro bono and litigation experience. We also have a Partner-In-Charge of Pro Bono, as well as designated pro bono partners and pro bono committees in each office of the firm.

4. Ask junior attorneys about their experiences. Did you feel like you were getting legal training while making a difference? Many O’Melveny lawyers take their first depositions, conduct their first trials, argue their first appellate cases, negotiate their first deals, and draft their first contracts on behalf of our pro bono clients.

5. Are associates able to bring pro bono cases into the firm? Understand a firm’s referral source and openness for associates to focus on issues that are important to them. O’Melveny’s pro bono matters are brought to the firm by our pro bono professionals, our large network of local and national legal aid organizations with whom we work regularly, and individual attorneys who have developed their own pro bono relationships based on personal interests and passions.

6. What kind of pro bono matters does the firm have access to? It is important for there to be a balance between high-profile/high-impact matters and individual direct service representation. O’Melveny has a history of being involved in high-profile cases before the US Supreme Court, including this past term’s most closely watched immigration case, U.S. v Texas. In addition, we recently have been co-counsel with MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund) in major litigation to protect voting rights, and we have been leading advocates for many years in the fight for marriage equality. But we also engage in a wide variety of pro bono matters that touch the lives of individuals and families in profound ways. We represent families facing homelessness, military veterans seeking government benefits, and nonprofit organizations dealing with start-up or expansion issues, to name a few.

7. Does the firm have a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility? How is it defined?  The concept of CSR and the legal industry’s commitment to the community is not new, but few law firms have a dedicated CSR program. O’Melveny has a well-defined, and thoughtfully executed, CSR program that is tied to the firm’s overall strategy, history, and culture. We partner with hundreds of nonprofits and clients who also value CSR on pro bono workshops and fundraising for important causes.

8. Is CSR a firmwide priority or is it really just a fad?  While CSR is an area more firms are starting to pay attention to, few have it as ingrained in their history and culture as we do at O’Melveny—after all, one of our founders, Jack O’Melveny, started the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in 1929, still the oldest and largest organization serving the poor in Southern California. Each year O’Melveny gives in the millions to provide our communities with support in the areas that matter most to O’Melveny: equal access to justice (pro bono), education (through scholarships and mentoring), and health care (partnering with nonprofits to provide access to quality health care). We also center our CSR program on our volunteerismgreen initiatives, and our deep commitment to diversity and inclusion.

9. Ask for specific examples. A firm should have many examples of volunteerism and sponsorships of local organizations, but dig a little deeper to understand how a firm has demonstrated leadership in the area of CSR. Below are some O’Melveny examples:

    • O’Melveny supports, among over 200 other nonprofits, an organization called “Wunderglo”, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating colon cancer that was started by O’Melveny associate and cancer warrior Gloria Borges.
    • O’Melveny is a founding leader of Justice Served, a campaign in the New York City legal community to support the Food Bank For New York City through volunteer and fundraising efforts.
    • Seventy-five percent of our US office buildings have met the strict LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) requirements and our New York and San Francisco offices are LEED-certified.
    • A partner in our San Francisco office co-founded the Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL) whose mission is to make competitive evidence-based debate available to every secondary school and student in the Bay Area

10. Look at a firm’s website. Firms that weave pro bono and CSR into the very fabric of their culture aren’t shy about it. Be sure to research a firm’s own website to see if they explain their commitment to community service in detail, and if that commitment goes beyond pro bono legal work. You can see ours at: www.omm.com/social-responsibility/

by Vault Law Editors 

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