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Although high-impact pro bono litigation often steals the spotlight, corporate pro bono efforts can have far-reaching and long-lasting community benefits. Corporate pro bono work — which can mean helping nonprofits establish tax-exempt status, offering counseling on financing issues, and providing ongoing corporate advice — has helped to revitalize low-income D.C. neighborhoods and promote reinvestment in distressed communities. Whether it is a small business that requires a line of credit for continued operations, or a community service organization that requires a bank loan to purchase a site, or a newly formed nonprofit that requires banking services, these groups’ organizational survival may depend on the availability of banking services and corporate advice. With an eye on local economic and community development, a group of corporate lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have pursued a series of business-related pro bono projects. As a result of these efforts, community-oriented organizations across the District are serving hundreds of residents and local small businesses. Youth development programs, charter schools, social service programs, and after-school programs have been established thanks to corporate pro bono work. In fact, Stephen Glover, a Gibson Dunn corporate partner, recently was recognized by the D.C. Bar as Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year for his continual involvement in community pro bono efforts. His work for Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center (now called CentroNia) secured a $2.2 million investment for the organization. These funds will allow CentroNia to open its public charter school this fall and to expand its child care and social services to a targeted 2,400 children and adults. The development of local small businesses has been fostered by corporate pro bono assistance. In early 1994, a group of concerned D.C. residents met in a church basement to identify ways to assist economically struggling neighborhoods. This group — which included community activists, bankers, nonprofit managers, and a representative from Gibson Dunn — concluded that financial services were inadequate. Thus, the idea of City First Bank, the first and only community development bank in the D.C. region, was born. The group defined a mission: “To promote investment in and strengthen under-served communities in D.C. by providing credit, financial services, and access to information for individuals and businesses.” That was the easy part. Before receiving a national bank charter and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insurance, stringent regulatory requirements had to be satisfied, a compelling business case had to be made, and a significant amount of capital had to be raised. Cantwell Muckenfuss, a financial institutions partner at Gibson Dunn and the bank’s former primary regulator, became a founder and a board member and took a lead role in handling corporate, securities, regulatory, tax, and employment matters for City First. For more than three years, the bank’s organizing group met nearly every week in Gibson Dunn’s main conference room. In November 1998 the bank opened its doors. Since then, Gibson Dunn attorneys have continued to provide pro bono legal advice. For example, the firm helped the bank secure its second round of financing, which will provide $8.5 million in additional capital. Now, despite the death of its founding chief executive officer, Debbie Hurd Baptist, the bank has grown to more than $100 million in assets, has been profitable for three consecutive years, and has completed a second round of capital raising. In early fall the bank will move to its new headquarters at 14th and U streets Northwest. City First has offices in Adams Morgan, LeDroit Park, Brookland, and Anacostia, among other areas. City First loans allow the acquisition and renovation of affordable housing and urban retail and office locations, and foster the development of neighborhood businesses. The bank’s capital facilities fund the operations of day-care centers, homeless shelters, charter schools, special-needs housing, and faith-based organizations. And, in an unexpected twist, City First is playing a role in another Gibson Dunn corporate pro bono project — a project still in its nascent stages that I helped spearhead. Girls Inc., a national youth development organization that provides after-school programs to girls, is coming to Washington, thanks in part to City First Bank. Girls Inc. is a national organization that aims to make girls “strong, smart, and bold” by offering programs to girls aged 6 to 18. Although Girls Inc. affiliates offer after-school programs to more than 850,000 girls annually at more than 1,500 sites nationwide, Girls Inc. did not have a presence in the District. In the fall of 2002, with Black Entertainment Television’s support, a group of volunteers interested in bringing Girls Inc. to Washington began planning. I was part of the organizational group, which included representatives from large corporations, educational institutions, trade associations, and D.C. public schools, as well as community activists and advocates for girls. The goal was to bring Girls Inc. programs to D.C.-area girls by year-end 2005. The local Girls Inc. steering committee began meeting at Gibson Dunn’s offices. Gibson Dunn specialists — corporate, tax, commercial, employment, nonprofit, and intellectual property attorneys — were all tapped to solve organizational, governance, and tax issues. In short order, Howard University had offered space and support. Marriott Hospitality Charter School and Garnett Patterson Middle School asked to be program sites. The national Girls Inc. organization provided office facilities, guidance, and resources. Dr. Roselyn Epps, a locally prominent physician and former national Girls Inc. board member, tapped into her broad network for volunteers and funding. And when Girls Inc. needed a banking relationship to sustain its new operations, City First, with its focus on community development and nonprofit organizations, was the logical candidate. City First provided banking services and support. In the midst of fund raising, Girls Inc. of D.C. continues to target year-end 2005 as a goal for offering programs. Gibson Dunn is helping coordinate a planning process. Community development-related pro bono work can be just as sophisticated and interesting as complex private sector matters. Corporate lawyers hired by paying clients for their problem-solving skills often find those talents tested and honed by community development pro bono work. The exposure frequently is educational, and the results are often gratifying.
Stephanie Tsacoumis is co-partner in charge of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Washington, D.C., office. Gibson Dunn financial institutions partner Cantwell F. Muckenfuss also contributed to this article.

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