Dianne Callan and Nancy Reiner
Dianne Callan and Nancy Reiner

There’s a difference between cheering for the underdog and helping the underdog win.

That’s the philosophy of the founders and volunteers at Green Pro Bono. The Boston-based pro bono network connects mostly local, environmentally focused non-profits and social entrepreneurs with local and national lawyers who can assist them with legal issues—the goal being that the free legal aid will help the organizations grow and succeed.

“Non-profits and social enterprises really need the pro bono work because they don’t have the funds to pay legal fees, but they have great missions,” says Nancy Reiner, a founder of Green Pro Bono and a managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Reiner developed the concept of Green Pro Bono about two years ago when she was a director at the Boston office of legal services company Counsel on Call. Before that, she was a partner at Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, where she had tried a number of climate change-related cases. “But I really wanted to do something that could have more of an impact on climate change,” she says.

After bouncing ideas off her law firm and in-house contacts, Reiner discovered that there wasn’t a pro bono organization in the U.S. that specifically provided services to environmental and climate change-related groups. From this realization, Green Pro Bono was born.

Reiner and the other Green Pro Bono founders began reaching out to environmental groups that might need assistance setting up a 501(c)(3), advice on how to maintain non-profit status, or help with general contracts and real-estate leases.

At one networking event geared toward social enterprises, Reiner met the founder of a non-profit called Citizens Market (now known as Fosfo), which has a mission to empower consumers to shop responsibly.

“He developed a phone application where you can scan the barcode of a product and determine its carbon footprint or its impact on child slavery,” Reiner explains. “He needed a media lawyer to figure out his website liability. What’s cool about Green Pro Bono is that media lawyers don’t usually get to do pro bono. And believe it or not, most lawyers want to do some kind of pro bono just to feel good about their work and do something that improves the world.”

A senior media partner from Goodwin Procter volunteered to help Citizens Market on a pro bono basis through Green Pro Bono, and Reiner says the organization couldn’t have been happier.

Dianne Callan, a founder of Green Pro Bono and director of the New England chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a community of business leaders who advocate for environmental groups, says Green Pro Bono’s next goal is to increase its volunteer base with more in-house lawyers who are passionate about social entrepreneurship. Callan says in-house involvement will help to further develop both Green Pro Bono and the organizations it helps.

“The motivation is to make a connection between those two populations,” she says.