Attorneys from leading financial institutions around the country came together for a day to provide pro bono legal counsel to those in need. Normally competitors, vying for the same customers and clients, these banks joined together for the good of their communities on the first Financial Institution Pro Bono Day. The event was organized by the Pro Bono Institute[1], a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that helps in-house legal departments and law firms implement pro bono programs.

More than 700 volunteer lawyers from 21 financial institutions participated in 47 pro bono events in key metropolitan areas across the United States. “We had high expectations for the day and this far exceeded them,” said Tim Millett, Deputy General Counsel, Employment and Chair of PNC’s Pro Bono Committee. 

Serving many communities' needs

In Pittsburgh, PNC lawyers joined others to help veterans whose discharge status may have been impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injury or similar health conditions. Others helped a nonprofit organization revise and update its handbook and employment policies. Some volunteers received training to work with transgender individuals seeking to obtain name changes that will allow them to match their legal identities with their lived experiences, and others prepared education rights factsheets for students and parents with language barriers.

In Washington D.C., PNC attorneys joined those from six other financial services institutions to staff a Small Business Clinic at one of PNC’s offices. Together, these lawyers reviewed legal documents and answered questions about starting a business, taxation, real estate leases, employment law and other legal issues common to owners of small businesses, especially those who operate in economically disadvantaged areas or who have limited financial resources. “I think we were able to give them real peace of mind. These clients may not have otherwise been able to afford counsel,” said Millett.

In Kansas City, a cohort of attorneys joined the Midwest Innocence Project for a case screening training, and in Philadelphia, lawyers helped refugee families complete the paperwork for green card applications. Volunteers in Philly also helped seniors with their estate planning such as simple wills, health care directives and power of attorney forms, while others volunteered at a Clean Slate Clinic, providing guidance on sealing or expunging old and minor criminal records, opening job and other opportunities for thousands of Pennsylvanians.

“All lawyers are bound by an ethical code and part of that code is a strong recommendation that lawyers do pro bono work,” said Mark Gittelman, Managing Chief Counsel at PNC. “Beyond that, pro bono work offers a chance to use different skills to help people and experience parts of the legal world we wouldn’t normally see.”

Talk turns into action

In October 2018, Gittelman attended the annual Pro Bono Institute dinner to catch up with friends and colleagues who are also bank lawyers. The conversation eventually turned to how they could do good things in their communities. That casual chat gave Gittelman the idea that brought Financial Institution Pro Bono Day to life.

Corporate Pro Bono, a Pro Bono Institute (PBI) project, organized the day with the goals of spotlighting the severe gap in legal services for underserved individuals in the United States and to promote in-house pro bono engagement and collaboration. PNC Legal Department’s Pro Bono Committee took the lead in working with PBI to organize the event.

“The amazingly positive reaction among the bank lawyer community was overwhelming,” Mark said. “It was totally gratifying to see so many motivated colleagues and friends wanting to help others.”

Strengthening pro bono culture

In the hours and days after the event, positive feedback poured in from grateful clients and fulfilled attorneys alike.

Eve Runyon, PBI president and chief executive officer, said “PBI’s mission is to help in-house legal departments and law firms build a strong culture of pro bono. The experience, conversations and best practices shared on Financial Institution Pro Bono Day served as a launching pad to encourage in-house collaboration and engagement in pro bono across the financial services industry, increase the visibility of the unmet legal needs of the community and change lives for the better.”