Drawing by a child who received books from First Book. The organization sent it to the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation as a thank you.
Drawing by a child who received books from First Book. The organization sent it to the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation as a thank you.

It’s not easy finding your perfect match, both romantically speaking and when you find yourself in need of legal advice. The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation relieves the burden on social entrepreneurs trying to navigate the murky waters of their legal issues alone by matching them with lawyers at top law firms.

David Roll, who established the foundation in 2005, wanted to take advantage of Lex Mundi, an association of independent law firms with one firm in each of the 50 U.S. states and one in each of about 100 additional countries. The foundation is a non-profit affiliate of Lex Mundi. It also has relationships with organizations such as the Schwab Foundation, which identifies and connects social entrepreneurs, and the Skoll Foundation, which invests in social entrepreneurs. Groups such as these vet the social entrepreneurs that the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation works with.

Entrepreneurs get in touch with the foundation, either directly or through a partner organization, bringing legal issues that range from a simple 501(c)(3) non-profit registration, to setting up a hybrid corporate structure, to more complicated transactions involving laws in several different countries. The foundation helps these businesses define and prioritize their legal needs, then connects them with Lex Mundi lawyers who have expertise in the right topic and jurisdiction. The foundation also is exploring the possibility of getting in-house lawyers involved, through a recent partnership with LexisNexis.

“For trademark, patent and corporate lawyers in these law firms, we provide them with pro bono opportunities that don’t always come along through their law firms’ normal pro bono programs, which tend to be more concentrated on human rights litigation and that sort of thing,” Roll says.

Roll is particularly proud of how the foundation helped one social entrepreneur, First Book—a nonprofit that provides new books to low-income children. The organization was trying to add new titles to its First Book Marketplace, which offers books to eligible groups at reduced prices, and had been approved for a $1.5 million loan. The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation connected First Book with lawyers from Steptoe & Johnson, who “did analysis of the various elements of the loan document, and really protected First Book tremendously,” says Jane Robinson, First Book’s CFO.

“Without this kind of representation, they could have been taken to the cleaners,” adds Roll.

While matchmaking is the foundation’s primary activity, it also runs an online legal resource database called LawForChange, which is aimed at a wider audience, including philanthropies and social entrepreneurs that foundation’s partners haven’t vetted. LawForChange currently is only available for U.S. law, but the foundation is looking to expand to other jurisdictions.

“We use the requests we get [from the matchmaking process] to help inform the types of information that we put on LawForChange,” says Chloe Holderness, managing director of the foundation.

While the foundation’s work focuses on social entrepreneurs, its vision is a bit broader. “Our unwritten mission is spreading the pro bono ethic around the world,” Holderness says. “We are really using these social entrepreneurs and the Lex Mundi firms to advance that conversation and have the firms be leaders in their jurisdictions to show the value and the importance of pro bono.”