Jeff Green, partner and firmwide chair of Sidley’s Pro Bono Committee, and Pro Bono Counsel Mark Herzog share their thoughts on how Sidley’s supportive culture nurtures diverse pro bono opportunities.
How would you describe the pro bono culture at Sidley?
JG: Pro bono is something our firm’s management cares deeply about and takes personally. We have a long history of doing it, and even through dark, economic times, we haven’t let up on our commitment to serving the broader community and legal profession. Also, our pro bono clients are assured that they will receive the very same high standards of representation and quality of service as all of our clients.
“Pro bono is something our firm’s management cares deeply about and takes personally.”
- Jeff Green
Mark, you recently came to Sidley after serving as the associate director of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. What led you to join the firm?
MH: What I knew about Sidley after working with the firm as a pro bono partner for almost 20 years was that the quality of its legal work is unmatched, the lawyers and staff are collegial and kind, and the pro bono practice is robust, impactful and diverse. What I have learned since joining the firm is how right I was.
What are some of the elements of your role that comprise a typical day for you?
JG: I ensure our young lawyers and partners have the opportunities to do the kind of high-quality pro bono work that they like to do, as well as answer any policy questions that might come up. Administering the program also requires me to keep an eye on our various offices, keeping track of how much pro bono work they are doing, whether they have the adequate resources and whether we can help them build new programs.
MH: There is no typical day in the life of a pro bono counsel at Sidley, which is one of the very attractive aspects of the position. One moment I may be helping an associate manage a client crisis; the next I may be developing a new relationship with a national nonprofit organization; and the very next I may be appearing in court with one of our associates. It’s all great fun for me.
What makes Sidley a great place for associates who are interested in pro bono work?
JG: New associates will gain a tremendous amount of self-confidence in addition to the on-your-feet courtroom or deal-making knowledge that everyone seeks after joining the firm. They will also learn to handle a variety of clients and look at issues from a client’s perspective. I’m very proud to say that a lot of lawyers have told us that the most rewarding work they’ve done was in connection with their pro bono practice.
MH: All associates are encouraged to incorporate pro bono into their practice from the moment they join the firm. In fact, we offer incoming associates an opportunity to work at public interest organizations for 10 weeks before joining the firm—and at full salary. Because we have pro bono counsel or pro bono chairs in every office, we are able to help associates identify opportunities, recruit partners to supervise their work and coordinate substantive support. We ensure that the clients are well served and the associates have a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally.
What changes and trends are you seeing in pro bono, both at Sidley and more broadly?
JG: Pro bono has always been and will continue to be a critical element of our mission statement. On a percentage basis of hours dedicated to pro bono work, we have grown to become one of the firm’s largest practices, which represents a huge change. And that’s a testament to our lawyers giving back to the community and changing the culture.
MH: In many ways, lawyers have led our country towards great transformation. But, so many of our neighbors lack access to basic human necessities like decent and affordable housing, healthcare, education and jobs. Unfortunately, that has not changed much over my decades of practice. I have to believe we can be more creative in finding solutions to help lift people out of poverty.
Can you talk about any recent cases that have been particularly rewarding?
MH: Every case we staff feels like a victory, whether it is a landlord-tenant dispute or a high-profile civil rights case. Of course, a successful outcome is important. But to me, providing our clients the opportunity to receive outstanding representation is perhaps most rewarding.
I am very excited about the cases we recently staffed through the Public Defender Service to represent four clients eligible for significantly reduced sentences under Washington, D.C.’s recently enacted Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act. One of our clients was sentenced to 70 years in prison when he was only 17 years old, which effectively is a life sentence without parole. He already has served 24 years. We could reduce his sentence by 46 years and the sentences of our other three clients, all of whom were 16 or 17 when sentenced, by 39 years, 37 years and 20 years respectively.
“The world is moving quickly, and our pro bono program is a step ahead.”
- Mark Herzog
What do you envision for the future of Sidley’s pro bono program?
JG: We will continue to expand and add to our firmwide pro bono initiatives. The collaboration that occurs across our various offices with these particular initiatives is wonderful for our lawyers and clients, and it seems to have a big impact in terms of the work that gets done. Most important, Sidley will continue to have a pro bono program that is driven by our own lawyers, who will freely bring the work to us based on their own particular interests.
MH: The firm is developing many new pro bono projects with our commercial clients across the globe. We can continue to provide the structure and support so that internal legal departments can join our pro bono legal work. This not only expands the pro bono work that we do, it adds significantly more pro bono lawyers to the legal services delivery network.
The best pro bono programs need to be pliable, so we need to be prepared to address the ever-changing legal needs of the community. The incarceration reduction cases were not possible a year ago, and now we are working on four of them, with a team of 12 lawyers and staff. The world is moving quickly, and our pro bono program is a step ahead.