When Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II singles out a business publicly, it’s often because it’s on the wrong end of a lawsuit the state is pursuing. But the 115-lawyer legal department of Capital One Financial Corp. didn’t have to deal with a legal battle after an announcement last year from the attorney general.

Cuccinelli in January 2012 revealed that the McLean, Va.-based bank, which has 30 lawyers in the Washington area, had developed technology that matches volunteer attorneys with low-income clients in Virginia. The system, known as JusticeServer, was one of the major pillars of the Capital One legal department’s pro bono and community service efforts in 2012.

Capital One lawyers Brent Timberlake and Stephen Otero and legal communications staffer Elizabeth Wood spent 200 hours on the project. JusticeServer also drew 2,000 hours of support from Capital One information-technology volunteers.

JusticeServer was a "win" for Capital One and Virginia, the bank’s general counsel and corporate secretary, John Finneran Jr., said in a written statement.

"It forges deeper partnerships and connections within the community, and, most importantly, it supports the legal rights of Virginians for whom access to the courts and legal counsel could make all the difference in helping them avoid homelessness and keep crucial benefits or jobs," he said.

In the Washington area, the Capital One legal department last year also provided pro bono assistance to firefighters and paramedics in Bethesda, Md., and a Northern Virginia consumer law clinic.

Through the "Wills for Heroes" program, 24 Capital One lawyers and staffers donated 168 hours of pro bono counseling to 40 firefighters and paramedics, helping them with wills, powers of attorney and advanced medical directives.

The consumer law clinic involved 12 Capital One lawyers who provided 48 hours of pro bono assistance to 26 clients during a half-day counseling session.

The legal department accumulated another 200 pro bono hours when 24 of its lawyers and staff held a clinic in Richmond, Va., counseling nine nonprofit organizations about corporate governance. Capital One has 48 lawyers in that city.

The legal department did pro bono work in 2012 outside Virginia and Maryland, too. Its pro bono work included a "no fault" divorce workshop and foster home and property dispute assistance in New Orleans; a legal aid clinic in Plano, Texas; and foster home and guardian counseling in New York.

"When I talk with the local nonprofit partners we support in the community, we are almost never remembered for the check we wrote — but we are always remembered for the quality of our people and the tangible, enduring contributions they have made to help these organizations better serve the needs of the community," Finneran said.

The legal department formed a pro bono team following a 2011 internal survey that showed its lawyers had a strong interest in volunteer work, Capital One spokeswoman Shelley Solheim said. Capital One gives its attorneys the flexibility to fit pro bono work into their schedules, and takes their projects into consideration during their reviews, she added.

But the legal department isn’t a signatory of the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge, an initiative of the Pro Bono Institute and the Association of Corporate Counsel that enables legal departments to show their support for pro bono work.

Solheim said Capital One plans to sign the initiative in the coming months.

"They’re in the early stages of the pro bono arena," said Esther Lardent, president and chief executive officer of the Pro Bono Institute. "But we’re excited about where they’re going." — Andrew Ramonas

Capital One, a publicly held financial services company — one of the largest issuers of Visas and MasterCards
Headquarters: McLean, Va.
Industry: Financial services
Number of lawyers in the Washington area: 30
Number of lawyers in the U.S.: 105
Number of lawyers worldwide: 115
General counsel: John Finneran Jr.

 

KEYS TO SUCCESS

"Pro bono legal services not only benefit the local community but also provide valuable engagement and leadership opportunities for our associates," Capital One general counsel John Finneran Jr. said. "More than 90 percent of Capital One managers said their associates’ leadership development skills were demonstrably improved after engaging in pro bono work."

"It’s hard for many people to comprehend the challenges that low -income individuals and families face every day, and those daily struggles can be compounded by hardships like divorce, housing issues, bankruptcy or employment concerns," Finneran said. "These and other legal challenges can be overwhelming to someone already living on the edge and lawyers come at a cost. Legal aid and non profit organizations that are on the front lines providing legal assistance to the underserved and pro bono support for their work is absolutely critical."

"Our people are all in," Finneran said of his company’s involvement in pro bono work.

— John Finneran Jr., general counsel