Posted June 30, 2015
The Supreme Court of Ohio recently passed an amendment allowing attorneys with corporate counsel status to provide direct pro bono legal services to persons of limited means or charitable organizations. Prior to this amendment, attorneys admitted to practice in Ohio under corporate counsel status were only allowed to perform legal services for their employer. Now the path has now been cleared for some 300 in-house attorneys to help fill the pro bono services gap in Ohio and utilize their legal skills to engage with individuals and nonprofits in the Greater Cincinnati area through pro bono service.
The caveat to this expansion is that the pro bono work must be assigned to the corporate counsel attorney by an approved pro bono provider. In addition to the Pro Bono Partnership of Ohio, other local organizations that are approved pro bono providers include the Cincinnati Bar Association, Pro Seniors and the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Since the amendment became effective on April 1, 2015,we have already had several corporate status attorneys from in-house legal departments volunteer to represent nonprofits with their business legal needs.
Alison Tan, Senior Counsel at Procter & Gamble, is currently assisting a local nonprofit register its trademark. “The rule change has given me the opportunity to do my part for non-profits, utilizing my specialized set of legal skills in the trademarks and licensing field.”
Sushupta T. Sudarshan, counsel for GE Aviation, agrees: “Before joining GE, I practiced law in Washington, D.C. for 8 years and regularly participated in pro bono activities with the Washington D.C. Legal Aid Society and Catholic Charities. These were very rewarding experiences for me, professionally and personally, and allowed me to contribute some badly needed legal advice to under-served members of the community. [The new rule] enables me to offer my legal services and contribute to the advancement of the Bar of Ohio’s mission on pro bono service.” Sudarshan is currently advising a nonprofit on copyright issues.
In addition to the support from Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and the other justices, many other advocates worked hard to bring about this rule change: Phillip J. Smith and Bridget McGraw at GE Aviation joined Virginia Conlan Whitman from the Volunteer Lawyers Project in launching the effort. Other contributors included the Pro Bono Institute’s Eve Runyon and Shannon Graving, Judge Pat Fischer, Amar Sarwal at the Association of Corporate Counsel, Bill Weisenberg and Kalpana Yalamanchili at the Ohio State Bar Association (along with the House of Delegates and Access to Justice Committee), Angela Lloyd at OLAF, and Mike McAlevey, GE Aviation’s general counsel. Finally, thanks goes to the many GCs, chief legal officers, and others in the in-house bar that signed or sent many of the nearly 50 separate but unanimous statements of support in its favor.