In 2016, associates across each of Barclay Damon’s 11 offices reached an admirable goal – every one of them participated in the firm’s robust pro bono program, which treats every pro bono hour as a billable hour, the same as if these associates were doing business with the firm’s top clients.
In 2017, Barclay Damon Pro Bono Partner Heather Sunser set her sights on the next public service milestone: If all of the firm’s associates could participate in pro bono work, why not the partners? The challenge was on for Barclay Damon’s nearly 300 attorneys.
Several weeks ago, the firm announced they had done just that. Every single one of Barclay Damon’s full-time attorneys participated in the firm’s pro bono program in 2017.
“Every year I was charting progress and watching how much our hours increased,” Sunser said. “From looking at the time people put in, I have an idea of what kinds of projects people enjoy participating in, but I started to see patterns and I realized it was important to try to offer something for everyone.”
Sunser, who works out of Barclay Damon’s Syracuse office, said full participation became feasible with pro bono opportunities that could be done remotely, to accommodate attorneys who are constantly out of town. Answering legal questions online or on the phone was a piece of the puzzle, and attorneys participated in the American Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers program, including Boston attorneys taking questions through Massachusetts Legal Answers Online.
Another key to raising participation was finding specific projects for attorneys who are highly specialized in their fields. For example, Sunser said, participating in a small business incubator on a pro bono basis has helped several partners with an intellectual property practice find a way to use their skill set in public service.
Tony Scibelli, a partner in the Boston office and memberof the Boston Bar Association’s Amicus Committee, said his office participates in a wide variety of public service projects through the BBA. Joseph Stanganelli, another partner in the office, was successful in helping a veteran suffering from PTSD to upgrade his discharge status and access benefits. Stanganelli took the client on through the BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service.
Outside of the BBA, Scibelli has found his pro bono niche handling mediation cases in small claims court in Salem, Peabody and Gloucester. Scibelli’s background is in business and commercial litigation, not mediation, but working with the North Shore Community Mediation Center, he completed the required training and began to help litigants settle outside a courtroom.
“It has been a fascinating experience and a great, meaningful experience,” Scibelli said. “Many of these litigantsare low-income folks who are on various forms of public assistance. A few thousand, or even a few hundred, dollars means quite a lot to them, and in many cases it is money they really can’t afford to pay.”
So, where does Barclay Damon go when they’ve already reached 100 percent?
Sunser said she is hoping to see the overall number of pro bono hours go up, hopefully by engaging attorneys who had relatively small totals in the past. She said the firm is also always looking to partner with local organizations – whether they are bar associations, legal services organizations, or nonprofits – to try to meet needs in the community.
“When we find an opportunity to start a partnership in a place where there is currently no legal help available, we can really see the difference our effort makes,” Sunser said. “It was so exciting to see the successes and things we’ve been able to help people with over the course of this year.”
To learn more about Barclay Damon’s pro bono program, please click here.