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In-house lawyers doing pro bono work may seem like an oxymoron. After all, our chief responsibility is to serve the interests of the company — not champion the rights of the individual, let alone the indigent. But that narrow conception of our place in the profession is quickly changing. Like our counterparts in private and public practice settings, we share a responsibility to promote justice for all. And, as company lawyers are highly trained, respected, and well compensated, we are uniquely positioned to do just that. Pro bono has become integral to my identity as a lawyer and human being. This interest in public service dates back to the time I started law practice in the late 1970s. Since then, I have worked on scores of pro bono matters. One case in particular sealed my commitment to the cause: In 1987 I agreed to serve on the defense team of a death row inmate in Alabama who had just received an execution date. At the time, I was a litigation partner at the Philadelphia law firm of Drinker, Biddle & Reath. Our client, Bo Cochran, was an African-American itinerant worker who had been convicted of murdering a white store manager after a 1976 robbery. Although no substantial forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony linked Cochran to the crime, he was charged with capital murder. While the state prosecutor claimed that Cochran was carrying a gun on the evening in question, a gun found in his possession was not the same caliber as the one used to kill the store manager (a fact that was ignored at his trial). Cochran was arrested miles from the scene of the crime, and no witness placed him anywhere in its vicinity. As we dug deeper into the case, other disturbing facts emerged. First, it became clear that Cochran had never received the quality of legal assistance demanded by capital trials. Moreover, the prosecutor had systematically excluded African Americans from the jury. Even a superficial review of the case revealed other errors of constitutional dimension. Beyond these procedural shortcomings, it also became apparent to us that Bo Cochran was, in fact, not guilty of the crime. (We later located a witness whose testimony about what he saw and heard on the night of the murder indicated that it had been a police officer who had accidentally shot the victim.) A federal court in Alabama agreed with our arguments, finding not only that Cochran’s trial counsel was ineffective and that blacks had been systematically excluded from the jury, but also that the prosecutor had a policy and practice of such exclusion — a clear violation of Batson (the 1986 Supreme Court decision finding it unconstitutional to exclude jurors on basis of race). I continued serving on Cochran’s defense team even after leaving the firm to go to Merck & Co., Inc., in 1992. Merck’s management was supportive, even as I, along with Drinker Biddle lawyers, made numerous trips to Alabama and devoted many hours preparing for the habeas corpus trial and subsequent appeals to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Finally, in 1996, after more than 15 years on death row, Cochran was acquitted and freed. Now in his late fifties, he works for a steel company in Birmingham. We keep in touch. We have spoken on panels together. He has visited my home. Ultimately, the privilege of representing him has changed my life. More than an ethical responsibility, pro bono is a broadening experience that makes us better, more balanced lawyers. My colleagues and I were fortunate enough not only to save the life of an innocent man, but also, by exposing prosecutorial misconduct, to strengthen the rule of law and enhance the public’s confidence in the justice system. What more could any lawyer hope to accomplish? Before joining Merck, I was concerned that going in-house might unduly restrict my activities as a lawyer. The opposite seems to be true. To my delight, I have found that I could be both a good in-house counsel and an active pro bono lawyer. In part, this is thanks to the trailblazing done by Merck’s former general counsel, Mary McDonald (who was once a Legal Aid lawyer). Part of her legacy is a vibrant, ongoing pro bono program. Today more than 50 percent of Merck’s legal department, including lawyers, legal assistants, and support staff, participate. We work in partnership with Legal Services of New Jersey in family law matters, landlord/tenant cases, and other individual civil matters. We are also a signatory to the pro bono pledge developed by the American Corporate Counsel Association. Most importantly, Merck has a long-standing pro bono culture that encourages everyone to make a difference. As for my own pro bono calendar, I recently agreed to help with another death penalty case — this time for a death row inmate in Georgia. Kenneth Frazier is senior vice president and general counsel of Merck & Co., Inc., in Whitehouse Station, N.J.

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