There are few people who have served on PILI’s Board of Directors longer than Myles Berman, the managing partner of the Chicago office of Foley & Larnder LLP. Nearly 30 years ago, he was a young associate at Altheimer & Gray heading up their new pro bono program when he first got connected with PILI. Berman, who came from a strong background in the civil rights movement, had graduated from Northwestern University School of Law in 1983 with the drive and conviction to make a difference in the world. He has since structured and developed the pro bono programs of two major law firms, and spent decades serving legal aid nonprofits and other causes, including PILI, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), the Anti-Defamation League, the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago, and more.
Last month, Northwestern University School of Law’s Student Funded Public Interest Fellowship Program honored Berman for his outstanding contributions to public service and the legal community at their Twelfth Annual Public Service Benefit Dinner. In acceptance of this recognition, he shared some of his insights from decades of pro bono work. Chief among these insights was the importance of building relationships between law firms and public interest agencies. “Pro bono and public interest need moles,” he said, “champions that burrow in and live deep inside law firms to bang the drum, make connections for lawyers to find appropriate pro bono and public interest assignments. And sometimes just to say, ‘It’s ok to do pro bono and public interest work.’ To say, ‘I did it, and you can too.’”
A seasoned “mole” himself, Berman was the person who, over ten years ago, convinced Foley to take PILI under its wing and house PILI’s offices. The significance of this contribution of office space and the cost savings it affords have been a tremendous boon to PILI, freeing up substantial resources for us to focus on the pursuit of our mission.
Berman closed his remarks at Northwestern’s Public Service Benefit Dinner last month with words of inspiration for anyone seeking to, like him, make a difference: “Pro bono and public interest work come in lots of forms, from direct service to program architecture and design. Do what delights you,” he said. “But do something.”