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As general counsel at Hilton Hotels Corporation, Madeleine Kleiner usually spends her days working on transactional and corporate governance issues. But over the past year she’s picked up a new and unexpected specialty: adoption law. Since last fall the in-house department at the Beverly Hills, California-based hotel chain has taken part in a unique program run by the Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court. Judges, attorneys, and court clerks volunteer their time to aid in the adoption of children with medical or emotional problems. The children are usually adopted by a family member in uncontested proceedings. Hilton’s entire in-house department � 20 lawyers, 16 paralegals, and support personnel � participates in the program. They undergo a special training session, meet with the families, handle the paperwork, and appear in court at semiannual “adoption days.” The Hilton staff has aided in the adoption of 22 children since last year. Kleiner says that in one proceeding, she helped a grandmother adopt her special needs grandson. After the adoption went through, the entire family of aunts, uncles, and siblings swarmed Kleiner for a group hug, and included her in their picture-taking. “It was a phenomenal event, a warm and joyous occasion,” she recalls. Attorneys at Hilton aren’t the only in-house lawyers who have become enthusiastic about volunteering their time. Pro bono expert Esther Lardent estimates that law departments at about 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies currently have a formal program in place. In a 2001 survey conducted by CorporateProBono.Org (CPBO), only 20 percent did. “This is the fastest leap in [business] pro bono efforts I’ve ever seen,” says Lardent, who’s worked in the pro bono field since 1979. In addition to serving as the spokesperson for CPBO, Lardent is also president of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. CPBO is currently surveying companies on their pro bono hours for 2003, and expects to publish its results next year. Lardent bases her growth estimate on a sharp increase in requests for technical assistance, training, and guidelines since CPBO began three years ago. The program is a joint initiative of the Pro Bono Institute and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). Lardent also cites increased participation in a pro bono clinic that CPBO regularly offers at ACC’s annual meeting. Last year 18 in-house attorneys participated; this year, 32. The Goal: 50 Hours A Year The rise in corporate pro bono work is a big change from the past. Most observers acknowledge that for a variety of reasons, in-house lawyers have historically volunteered fewer hours than attorneys at law firms. Debbie Segal, chair of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on pro bono, explains that attorneys at firms have experience with a broad range of clients and legal issues. In contrast, in-house lawyers generally serve only one client � the corporation � and often focus on a single area of law, such as contracts or mergers. As a result, they haven’t always had the array of practice skills needed to represent pro bono clients, especially in trials. According to Segal, two other impediments have prevented in-house attorneys from volunteering. Most in-house attorneys aren’t licensed to practice law in the state in which they work. Plus, they generally lack legal malpractice insurance. But these obstacles are being overcome, Segal says. “People are finally finding ways to use business lawyers’ skills in pro bono work, especially for nonprofit groups,” she explains. A partner at Kilpatrick Stockton in Atlanta, Segal notes that nonprofits need help with employment law, leasing, contracts, and other transactional matters that draw on the expertise of in-house counsel. National projects like CPBO and ABC (A Business Commitment, jointly sponsored by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and the ABA’s Business Law section) have also contributed to the growth of corporate pro bono, Segal says. These initiatives provide training and networking opportunities, as well as advice on how to obtain cheap malpractice insurance or how to get around the licensing issue. Many Companies, Many Programs Pro bono rookies are finding a variety of ways to contribute their services. At Abbott Laboratories, more than 40 in-house lawyers have participated in half-day “naturalization clinics” to help immigrants with their U.S. citizenship applications. Patricia Coleman James, a staff lawyer at the suburban Chicago drug giant, says that the law department started with two clinics in 2002 and has led another six sessions so far this year. Starbucks Corporation also took the pro bono plunge last year. All 30 attorneys in the company’s law department, as well as paralegals and administrative assistants, are working in a project to help low-income tenants who face eviction hearings. Assistant GC Lucy Lee Helm says that in its first year and half, the project provided an estimated 300 hours of free legal services to more than 50 clients. In-house attorneys at Pfizer Inc. first started volunteering their services to the United Way in New York two years ago. The pharmaceutical company’s pro bono program expanded after 9/11 to include other nonprofit organizations, from a small soup kitchen in Manhattan to the Girl Scouts. Pro bono coordinator Jean O’Hare says that Pfizer lawyers handle contracts and other typical business law matters in their volunteer work. Kathleen Hopkins, who chairs the pro bono committee of the ABA’s Business Law Section, speculates that the recent increase in pro bono may be due to the poor economy, which has given in-house lawyers greater appreciation for their own situation and a desire to help others. Volunteer work “feels good, and that’s infectious,” Hopkins says. “Your clients are so grateful. Once you do it, you will keep on doing it.”

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