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Litigators have always had the pick of the litter when it comes to pro bono work. Handling common pro bono matters like housing disputes or discrimination cases comes easier to experienced hands than to transactional or in-house attorneys who rarely see the inside of a courtroom. But for transactional attorneys who want to do good, the options have never been as numerous or challenging as they are right now. Bar foundations and members of the legal service community are crafting plans to create more and better opportunities for transactional specialists, with good results. At the same time, community development nonprofits have become increasingly sophisticated, due in part to cutbacks in government funding that have forced these organizations to model themselves after well-oiled businesses in order to survive. As a result, lawyers with transactional backgrounds are in high demand to handle anything from protecting service marks to prosecuting patents and brokering innovative partnering agreements. “Transactional pro bono work is hot,” says Esther Lardent, president of Georgetown University’s Pro Bono Institute. She says the PBI and other groups around the city have been working for years to get law firms and others interested in performing transactional work, generally for nonprofits or small businesses. Now it’s paying off. “What’s happened recently,” she says, “is that we’ve created an appetite in law firms to do it.” Through old-fashioned marketing, Lardent and others have drummed up interest in matching nonprofit and small businesses with transactional attorneys who in the past couldn’t find sufficient pro bono opportunities in their areas of expertise. “Transactional attorneys have wanted more to do that reflected their practice areas,” says Deborah Austin, who heads the D.C. Bar’s Community Economic Development Project. The change also is a boon to firms that are seeing pro bono work get pushed aside due to skyrocketing associate salaries and growing billable-hour requirements. Now transactional attorneys are helping pick up the slack. “You want to look to all your resources to step it up,” says William Kelly, of Latham & Watkins’ D.C. office, who sits on his firm’s pro bono committee. “If you can only get so much from your litigators, you could fill the boat with your transactional attorneys — engage a wider share of your lawyers.” Austin’s organization, the D.C. Bar’s Community Economic Development Project, was born in 1998 as a way to connect the dots between nonprofits and transactional attorneys. Many firms have gotten involved, handling contracts and other matters for non-profits in and around Washington. “The genius of the [D.C. Bar] program is that it’s matching lawyers who ordinarily haven’t had as many pro bono opportunities with community development corporations which need help,” says Kelly. “It’s drawing more people into pro bono work than in the past,” he says. One nonprofit that has benefited handsomely from the outpouring of interest in transactional pro bono work is the Manna Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Manna Inc., a 16-year-old housing development nonprofit in D.C. Last year, Manna CDC says it received approximately $9,000 worth of pro bono support from Philadelphia-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt; and two D.C. firms, Arnold & Porter and Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. The firms handled a variety of matters for the Manna CDC, including real estate, employment, and corporate structuring issues. In-house counsel are also getting into the swing. The American Corporate Counsel Association is working with Lardent to tap legal service providers and drum up transactional pro bono business, tailored to overcome hurdles for many in-house counsel. “In-house lawyers are corporate skill-set lawyers and not usually litigators,” says Susan Hackett, senior vice-president and general counsel of ACCA. “Another impediment that many corporate counsel face is that their practice environment is very different from that of law firms. Most firms are in downtown areas; most legal departments are not. Since most pro bono projects that are litigation-focused tend to be centered around large metro areas, corporate counsel haven’t seen so many projects that are convenient.” Hackett and the Pro Bono Institute are launching a project called CorporateProBono.org, which will connect legal service providers with in-house attorneys. The project, says Hackett, will allow “transactional attorneys to participate without being downtown, in court, or at the local legal service organization to provide one-on-one service.” The organization will also provide resources to help attorneys sort out potential conflicts of interest and address malpractice insurance concerns. Local law schools are also in on the action. Louise Howells, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia, kicked off the Community Development Law Clinic just last year. American University has something similar: the Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, administered by Professors Susan Bennett and Brenda Smith. George Washington University’s Small Business Clinic/Community Economic Development Project is the oldest of the three. Founded in 1977, that project is headed up by Susan Jones, a clinical law professor at George Washington University Law School. SCREENING AND MATCHING While Lardent’s program and CorporateProBono.org are mechanisms for putting firms in touch with service providers, it is the university organizations and the Community Economic Development project that put clients in direct contact with pro bono counsel. “We were an important catalyst in that way, but the real action has to happen on the local level,” says Lardent. “We created the appetite, but the [Community Economic Development Project] fed that appetite.” Adds Kelly, “The screening and matching function is very critical. If you don’t have that mechanism, then you may never quite get there.” The boom in transactional pro bono is not just a local phenomenon, either. Recently, New York attorney Allen Bromberger founded Power of Attorney, a grant-maker that works exclusively with transactional legal aid providers like the CED. Led by Bromberger and vice president Shari Dunn Buron, the New York-based organization hands out planning grants from about $25,000 to $40,000 to pre-existing pro bono providers to come up with a plan for expansion. If that plan is approved, Power of Attorney grants the organization an additional $150,000 to $300,000 over three years. The idea is to ensure that fledgling programs not only stay in business, but grow so they can better serve their neighborhoods. Buron credits the increase of interest in transactional pro bono work to “a confluence of events — the devolution to the state, a desire for community-based solutions, and increasingly, there are more business law attorneys out there who have a desire to do pro bono work.” Senior Editor Bill Kisliuk contributed to this article.

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