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On a steamy summer evening in 2000, about 80 revelers dressed in business attire gathered at the New York Historical Society building, just off Central Park West in Manhattan. Often the site of swanky benefits, the society’s chandeliered ballroom was that night the location of White & Case’s first pro bono awards dinner, which has since become an annual event. Duane Wall, the New York firm’s managing partner — then just three months on the job — had organized the elegant affair with White & Case partner Michael Schuster, who headed the firm’s pro bono committee at the time. The dinner’s stated purpose was to recognize the achievements of the 42 White & Case lawyers who had logged at least 100 hours of pro bono work the previous year — the firm’s so-called pro bono honor roll. But the evening also marked the beginning of the firm’s drive to reclaim, after more than a decade of erosion, the position of pro bono leadership that it once held. “We’re like a tribe; we need to keep our oral history alive,” says James Stillwaggon, an immigration practitioner who in May took over Schuster’s role. Stillwaggon is the 101-year-old firm’s full-time pro bono chairman. Over the past three years, White & Case has rocketed up the Am Law 100′s annual pro bono rankings, moving from 48th place in 1999 to 7th place in 2000 and 4th place in 2001. The jumps are based in part on a 40 percent increase in the number of total pro bono hours expended by the firm’s lawyers in the United States, from 28,200 hours in 1999 to 46,100 hours in 2001. (The Am Law 100 surveycounts only pro bono hours logged by U.S. lawyers.) Average pro bono hours per lawyer at White & Case increased from 36.3 in 1993 (the year for which The American Lawyerbegan accumulating data under its current definition of pro bono work) to 94.7 in 2001. Firm leaders attribute the gains to a multipronged strategy that includes focusing on children’s and women’s causes, recruiting more lawyers from the firm’s corporate ranks, and playing up pro bono work in memos and speeches at firm functions. At a May 2001 celebration marking White & Case’s centennial, for instance, Wall briefly reminded the crowd of the firm’s deep roots in pro bono work. In subsequent days, Wall circulated memos and e-mails outlining the history of pro bono and public service work at the firm. That history started with the firm’s founding partners. J. Dupratt White was involved with the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which protected the western bank of the Hudson River and surrounding woodlands from the threat of commercial development in the early 1900s. George Case initiated the firm’s 30-year alliance with the Red Cross. Wall’s missives also highlighted the contributions of Orison Marden, a White & Case litigator who began the firm’s ongoing partnership with The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s oldest and largest public interest law firm, in the 1930s. It was White & Case’s aggressive strategy to remake itself as an international corporate finance force in the early nineties that diminished the firm’s pro bono commitment, according to some at the firm. Although partner Alan Gropper started White & Case’s pro bono committee in 1990 with encouragement from then-managing partner James Hurlock, who spearheaded the firm’s international, transactions-heavy drive, the firm’s focus remained overseas — and pro bono was relegated to the back burner. By the end of the ’90s, White & Case had become a global player, but firm leaders — including Hurlock’s successor, Wall — worried that the firm lacked the kind of community spirit that pro bono work can create. They set out to rejuvenate the firm’s pro bono program. It wouldn’t be as easy as returning to the firm’s previous causes. Traditionally pro bono work had been the province of the firm’s litigators and was done on behalf of local community organizations in New York. That wouldn’t mesh with White & Case’s new global configuration and increased emphasis on transactions work. So White & Case got creative. In 2000 the firm sponsored an externship program that allowed associates to spend four months working at the Lawyers Alliance for New York, a public interest group that provides transactional services to nonprofit groups. The program was later expanded to allow associates to spend a year at the alliance. White & Case then launched its children’s initiative, which focuses its pro bono efforts on children’s causes. The firm ramped up its work with the Early Intervention Project, which helps abused and neglected children get access to federally mandated services, and the Incarcerated Mothers Project, which provides free legal guidance to female prisoners facing the potential loss of their children and termination of parental rights. To motivate and involve the firm’s transactions practitioners, Wall and Schuster added corporate attorneys to the firm’s 25-member pro bono committee. That allowed the group to more effectively match corporate lawyers with such New York-area small business development nonprofits as the South Bronx Overall Development Corporation, the Long Island City Community Development Corp., and The Business Resource and Investment Center. Additionally, White & Case attorneys assist firm client Deutsche Bank in its community development programs on a pro bono basis. For example, in April second-year associate R. Jake Mincemoyer helped the bank draft and negotiate a loan that was given to a small business owner who wanted to open a franchise pizza shop in Harlem. It’s this push to find pro bono opportunities for transactional lawyers that Schuster credits for the firm’s steep increases in pro bono hours in 2001. Says Schuster: “There is more and more need for nonlitigation services from various organizations [ranging from] churches to … lending programs for entrepreneurs in underdeveloped communities.” Because White & Case now has 39 offices in 26 countries, and more than half of its lawyers outside the United States, the firm has acted aggressively to advance pro bono work at its overseas offices, particularly in London, Moscow, and Mexico City. In the firm’s 137-lawyer London office, lawyers logged 1,100 hours of pro bono work in 2001, compared to 72 in 2000. In part, the increase is attributable to better record-keeping, but it also coincides with White & Case’s hiring of a full-time pro bono coordinator, Felicity Kirk. A British-trained solicitor and qualified French barrister, Kirk is responsible for finding pro bono opportunities for lawyers in all of White & Case’s European offices. She has hooked up the firm with such global nonprofits as the International Rescue Committee, a refugee aid group, and and the international arm of the U.S.-based Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to dying children. For the latter organization, White & Case acts as outside general counsel in 20 European countries, Australia and New Zealand. In White & Case’s 50-lawyer Moscow office, lawyers performed 1,275 hours of pro bono work, slightly fewer than the year before, but more than double the number it logged in 1999. Sandra Hilton-Kodalashvili, a British-trained partner in the Moscow office, says that an emerging philanthropic movement within Russia’s corporate community has advanced the concept of pro bono work in Russia. “It’s pioneering work,” she says. In the last three years White & Case has heightened its involvement with Moscow’s Legal Services Advisory Board, a referral center founded in 1999. (Other U.S. firms that accept referrals from the group include Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and Latham & Watkins.) White & Case also provides legal services to the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, which trains orphans in basic skills. Pro bono is similarly starting to gain traction in the firm’s Mexico City office, where Alexis Rovzar, White & Case’s executive partner for Latin America, is leading a push. In 2001 the office logged more than 2,800 hours of pro bono service, nearly 1,300 hours more than the previous year. The office’s pro bono client list includes Siembra, A.C., which assists low-income women; Fideicomiso Pro Vivah, which finances construction of low-income housing; and the Institute for Latin American Art Documentation, which seeks to preserve Latin America’s cultural heritage. Kirk says that pro bono projects help overseas lawyers feel “integrated” with their U.S. counterparts by allowing them to “identify with a common professional ethic.” It is a sentiment that’s echoed by Kirk’s colleagues in Mexico and Russia and by managing partner Wall. “Any [global] firm like ours,” he says, “should think of ways of making contributions where they are.” By invoking the legacies of Marden and the firm’s other pro bono stalwarts of the past, White & Case is going back to its roots — and for a firm with 39 offices in 26 countries, that’s a necessity.
Moving Up White & Case has jumped to the top echelon of The Am Law 100′s pro bono ranks.
Year Rank
1993 50
1994 61
1995 65
1996 71
1997 77
1998 60
1999 48
2000 7
2001 4
( The American Lawyer, December 2002)

Giving More Time Average pro bono hours per lawyer have more than tripled since the mid-nineties.

Year Avg. Hours Per Lawyer
1993 36.3
1994 31.9
1995 31
1996 25.8
1997 26.2
1998 32
1999 63
2000 74
2001 94.7
( The American Lawyer, December 2002)

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