Posted on: September 2, 2015
In July, Katten Muchin Rosenman received some exciting news: their firm had jumped more than 20 spots in the AmLaw Pro Bono ranking. From 2013 to 2014, Katten moved from 91st to 70th, in large part due to a 30% increase in average pro bono hours. Jonathan Baum, the firm’s Director of Pro Bono Services, works to figure out how to increase Katten’s pro bono activity. Jonathan joined Katten in 1993, and was the first pro bono partner at a major law firm in the Midwest. “We believe that people’s natural pro bono impulses are strong enough that if you let them loose and support them, then they will do a lot of pro bono,” he said.
Seven years ago, Katten set out to achieve an average of 40 pro bono hours per attorney with 40% of their lawyers performing pro bono. They called this plan their 40/40 Goal. “You have to have goals. It doesn’t happen by itself,” Jonathan explained. In 2014, Katten achieved its 40/40 Goal, reaching 49.3 average pro bono hours with a 41.7% participation rate.
While many people at the firm contributed to achieving the 40/40 Goal and to the increase in the AmLaw Ranking, Jonathan credits their pro bono successes to an overall culture of pro bono, starting with firm leadership. “The support of firm management is as strong as it has ever been,” Jonathan has observed. “There is no substitute for leadership from the top.”
Katten has set up numerous projects across the country in which attorneys can participate. One of the Chicago projects is the Katten Legal Clinic at José de Diego Community Academy, the first legal clinic in a Chicago public school. Once per month, families and neighbors of José de Diego Community Academy can meet and discuss legal issues with lawyers from Katten and LAF. Over 100 clients have attended this clinic since it began two and a half years ago, and every attorney that has volunteered has returned to volunteer again.
“Since its inception, Katten attorneys have dedicated countless hours to working with LAF attorneys to staff the Clinic and provide pro bono advice and extended representation to its clients,” said Kate Shank, the Director of Volunteer Services at LAF. “Katten’s work at the Clinic has helped to create a stronger, safer, and more stable community.”
Along with creating projects like the school clinic, Jonathan plays “matchmaker” and tries to connect Katten attorneys with pro bono opportunities they might be interested in. One way he does this is to try and find projects in a lawyer’s practice area. “We’re always conscious of the fact that lawyers need to be make maximum use of their time,” Jonathan explains, “so if we can find something that does a public service, as well as enhances the skills they use in their practice area, we try to do that as much as possible.” For example, PILI Board Member Daniel Lange works on employee benefits at Katten, so he volunteered to set up the employee benefits program at LAF.
“Throughout my career at Katten, the firm has always been supportive of attorneys’ pro bono efforts. Each year we hold ceremonies in every office highlighting local pro bono achievements,” said Daniel. “Over the years, I have been impressed by the positive results that Katten attorneys have been able to realize on behalf of clients who might not otherwise have access to legal representation.”
When attorneys would like to volunteer outside of their practice area, Jonathan facilitates trainings. He says he spends much of his time breaking down barriers – real or perceived — that might inhibit attorneys from doing more pro bono work.
While Katten has come a long way in the last year, it realizes there is always room for growth. Jonathan is encouraged by new associates who come out of law school expecting to do pro bono work and ready to get involved. He says he’s noticed an overall shift to a more positive attitude about pro bono in the legal profession as a whole, which continues to help volunteer programs like those at Katten flourish. As he said, “Our work is far from finished, but we are headed in the right direction.”