I have been proud to participate in the creation of a “virtual” pro bono business law clinic, representing an innovative partnership between Medtronic, Inc. and Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, LLP. This clinic, one of several that are sponsored by the Minneapolis nonprofit LegalCORPS, is the first program of its kind to be created jointly by an in-house legal team and a law firm.
Our pro bono clinic serves low-income small businesses and non-profits in the furthest reaches of northern Minnesota, giving the clients access to the advice of skilled business lawyers at no charge. The clinic also creates valuable pro bono opportunities for Medtronic’s in-house attorneys and Maslon’s business lawyers.
In a recent article in the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, “LegalCORPS expands business pro-bono work,” Jim Hammerand described the virtual clinics:
Through Minneapolis nonprofit LegalCORPS and regional small-business development centers, lawyer volunteers from Best Buy Co. Inc., Medtronic Inc., Target Corp., U.S. Bancorp and Minneapolis law firm Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand hold 30-minute video-conference sessions with small-business owners through clinics in Marshall, Hutchinson, Bemidji, Brainerd, Moorhead and Virginia every month.
‘What we’re trying to do with the clinics is preventative medicine: spotting what can get you in trouble, what you need a lawyer for and what you need to be careful about,’ Maslon lawyer Marty Rosenbaum said.
. . . ‘We were looking for an opportunity for our lawyers to do transactional pro bono work,’ said David March, senior counsel for commercial transactions at Target. . . . The program matches business lawyers, who sometimes have a hard time finding non-litigation pro bono work in their areas of expertise, with small businesses that don’t know what to look for in a lawyer, if they can even find one.
‘In some parts of Minnesota, it’s difficult for people to find attorneys even to pay for business law,’ LegalCORPS Executive Director Michael Vitt said. Clinic participants get ‘a sense of what they need to ask a lawyer to do and feel more comfortable and more confident dealing with lawyers.’
As Chair of Maslon’s Pro Bono Committee, I have had many discussions with law firm business attorneys and in-house lawyers about the benefits of doing pro bono legal services for those who cannot afford to pay legal fees. The LegalCORPS business law clinics, unlike many pro bono activities that are litigation-focused, give business attorneys like me a way to apply our hard-earned skills in a way that really benefits the clients and also fosters economic development.
And there is another major benefit to performing pro bono service – it gets us out of our comfort zone and gives us an avenue to develop our skills in ways that conventional practice might not allow. In the LegalCORPS clinics, we have the challenge of explaining basic concepts of company organization, tax law or other types of business law to clients who may not be as sophisticated as our regular corporate clients. For example, I often have to explain the advantages of forming an LLC vs. a corporation or a partnership, breaking down the concepts for a client with no previous corporate experience, or even someone for whom English is a second language. I have often brought young associates to observe the clinics, and in some cases these associates have gone on to become valuable volunteers.
The many benefits of doing pro bono work have caused many groups of in-house attorneys to participate, and Medtronic has been a leader in this trend. An article in Inside Counsel highlights the emphasis placed by Cam Findlay, Medtronic’s General Counsel, on pro bono work since he joined the company. Medtronic’s legal staff deserves a lot of credit for getting involved in these important activities.