DEARBORN - “Most volunteers pick up a hammer and donate their time at a habitat house, which is a good thing, but only lawyers can perform legal services for those in need,” said David Leitch, General Counsel, Ford.
In 2012, 51 U.S. attorneys representing 60 percent of the office of general counsel (OGC) contributed 756 hours of pro bono services.
Pro bono is short for the term pro bono publico - for the public good, or professional work that is done free of charge.
“It’s a long standing tradition for attorneys around the world that we are obliged as part of our profession to offer legal services free off cost,” he said. “We have a particular ability to contribute as part of our communities and use our skills to help those who are less fortunate.”
Identifying issues affecting those who are most in need, members of the OGC trade in their time at the office to serve the community. They hone in on lending their legal skills and help those who may not have access to proper assistance that they need - like free tax preparations, will writing for the elderly and firefighters, expungment clinics that help give individuals a second chance, assisting nonprofits and more.
“There was an existing committee but David Leitch really reinvigorated the pro bono program for us,” said Robert Mossel, member of the OGC.
Since its revamp in 2009, Ford’s pro bono program has been nationally recognized by a number of organizations for their exemplary efforts. Including a partner of the year award in 2009, the Kelvin W. Scott Corporate Counsel Pro Bono Award for Excellence in Corporate Involvement in 2010 and 2011 and the Corporate Pro Bono Partner Award from the National Pro Bono Institute.
“The Ford partnerships are shining examples of pro bono partnerships at their best – collaborative, community needs driven, client focused, and, not only sustained efforts, but constantly improving and expanding models for others,” according to the Pro Bono Institute, in recognition of the company’s achievement in 2012.
Most recently, Robert Mossel was awarded the John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award from the State Bar of Michigan.
“I’ve had the benefit of being able to coordinate and organize a lot of the pro bono work here at Ford,” said Mossel. “But I think this is a recognition for not only me, but the work of the OGC members all working together under the vision that Leitch had for the office to get out in the community and provide services."
Anybody can step out into the community and lend a helping hand, but pro bono allows lawyers to Go Further by using their skilled trades to provide justice for those in need in the community.
Moving forward with legal aid initiatives, Andrew Pride, OGC member and chairman of Ford’s pro bono board, said OGC is exporting what they’ve done in the U.S. to a global scale.
“This year we’re identifying countries with barriers that limit our international OGC colleagues, creating a plan to remove those barriers and then implementing that plan in 2014,” he said.
“Attorneys who do pro bono service always come back feeling like they got more back then they’ve given,” said Leitch. “It can become a very isolated existence to come in everyday to sit behind your desk. It’s not as broad as an experience as you would have if you went out into the community and met the people whose houses we can see from our windows but don’t know very well. So we come back feeling like we contributed to their lives and they contributed to our lives because of the rich experiences that we’ve had interacting with them.”