Henry Fong and Michelle Banks
“Do What’s Right.” It’s one of the tenets on which Gap Inc. functions. And because this philosophy was so ingrained into the company’s culture, it was easy for Michelle Banks to get her legal department’s pro bono program off the ground when she took over as GC of the clothing retailer three years ago.
“It was personal for me,” Banks says. “I have a passion for pro bono work.” Banks’ enthusiasm, support from the company and the motivation of Henry Fong, Gap’s senior corporate counsel and the program’s architect, brought the program to fruition.
Banks and Fong wanted it to be in line with the mission of The Gap Foundation, the company’s philanthropic organization, which supports youth programs. And they wanted to ensure the skills the legal department had to offer were used to their fullest. “We wanted our volunteers to bring to the community their expensive, highly sought-after skills that would normally be very difficult for these people to get access to,” Fong explains.
Fong had two requirements for the program: First, it should be easy for legal department members to qualify to volunteer without additional training; second, it should be team-oriented. “We wanted our volunteers to be resources banding together to serve communities, but we also wanted to have fun working together in the legal department,” Fong says.
One of the first projects the program took on was serving as “in-house counsel” to Youth Uprising and Breakthrough Collaborative–two community non-profits dedicated to supporting at-risk children. In another recent project, Gap’s legal department volunteers joined forces with the Pro Bono Institute to hold a “One-Day Clinic in a Box.” The Foundation invited a number of non-profits, and teams of Gap lawyers and nonlawyers sat down with each of the non-profit representatives for a legal health check to make sure they’re working in compliance with applicable laws.
“We have law firms that have volunteered to support us–to the extent we get overwhelmed,” Banks says. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is serving as back up for Gap’s Breakthrough Collaborative and Youth Uprising work, and Morrison Foerster is supporting the Clinic in a Box project. “Having outside law firms to partner with is really key to these programs’ success,” Banks adds.
Aside from the traditional pro bono work, the Gap legal team also is actively involved in two other community projects: Food for the Bar, for which they collect food for local pantries and provide volunteer time, and the Law Academy, through which they mentor at-risk teens who are interested in law.
“We have expensive skills readily available at our fingertips,” Banks says. “There is an ethical obligation to give back to the community with those skills.”
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