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Barbara King, a partner in the Albany, N.Y.-area firm Gordon, Siegel, Mastro, Mullaney, Gordon & Galvin last year committed a revolutionary act by introducing a mandatory firmwide pro bono program. Ten of Gordon Siegel’s 12 attorneys — including the five partners, but excluding two of-counsel — must handle cases pro bono, and partners who do not, must pay. Pro bono programs are not uncommon among large New York City firms, but few smaller firms have such policies and most exclude partners, according to Cynthia Feathers, director of the Department of Pro Bono Affairs at the New York State Bar Association. King decided that 24 hours a year was a reasonable requirement and sold her proposal to her partners with the proviso that it be enforced from the top down. “If there’s no leadership from the management of the firm on a commitment to pro bono, we can’t expect our associates to do it,” King said. Partners and associates have the same 24-hour annual goal. Low-performing partners must pay their $200 hourly rate for each hour they fall short to a not-for-profit organization that provides legal services to the indigent. Pro bono hours can be accumulated by working on cases for The Legal Project, the Legal Aid Society for Northeastern New York, mandatory matrimonial assignments and referrals from local bar associations and legal clinics. Other cases must be screened for economic need and merit. The work must be the “direct delivery of legal services to the indigent,” King said. “Sitting on the board of a local art institution doesn’t count.” MAKING IT PALATABLE King said several factors made the plan palatable to her colleagues. First, it came on the heels of positive publicity the firm received for one partner’s pro bono work. Second, King packaged the program to make it user-friendly. In two pages, the program lists where to get pro bono cases, identifies local groups that provide intake and screening and gives guidelines for implementation. It also identifies the opportunity to obtain CLE credits and the practice areas of the legal services providers. King said any policy should establish a minimum time commitment, a method for reporting services rendered and accountability procedures. Partner Arkley Mastro, who was initially skeptical about the plan, has set up an elder law program at the local YMCA. “It’s just difficult in a busy day to find time to do pro bono, and the policy definitely gives us motivation to do that,” Mastro said. “Being able to provide some pro bono services to folks who wouldn’t otherwise have it is a reward in and of itself.” King received a 2004 State Bar President’s Award for Pro Bono Service, both for her service in the capital region and for developing and promoting her firm’s policy. Partner Christine Galvin and associate Margaret Vella both have received awards from The Legal Project, a foundation of the Capital District Women’s Bar. Galvin also has received a state bar award.

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