McDonald's Offers its Legal Team a Selection of Pro Bono Options

The Pro Bono Committee at McDonald's serves up an assortment of opportunities for the legal department's attorneys, paralegals and administrative assistants. Their commitment to finding projects that suit the interests and schedules of their colleagues is a key reason why McDonald's is celebrating 10 years of successful pro bono work.

"The committee is able to fashion projects that are the right size for us to take on," says Gloria Santona, McDonald's general counsel. "They find great projects that make a difference in the community and also fit within the time parameters that we have."

The opportunities range from helping low income people with Medicaid benefits, to teaching students about the legal system, to helping obtain U-Visas for immigrants who have witnessed or been the victims of crime.

A project that has attracted the interest of McDonald's real estate team helps low-income people purchase homes. "Choose to Own," run by the Community Economic Development Law Project (CEDLP), works with participants to apply their housing subsidies to down payments and mortgage payments.

Shelly Hurta, McDonald's counsel for West Coast site development, says "Choose to Own" is attractive because it builds on existing skills.

"You don't have to learn something brand new, so instead of being stressful, it can be more rewarding because you have something to offer," Hurta says.

Hurta adds that the clients "have been super easy to work with" and very appreciative of the attorneys' time in reviewing contracts and inspection reports, negotiating repairs by the seller, coordinating financing and closing documents, and attending the closing.

"There are tears at the closing table," Hurta says.

Ken Shiner, a senior counsel in property management for McDonald's, recalls a closing for a social worker who was a single mother. "There was a sense of satisfaction that I was helping someone who was a very deserving role model and who wouldn't otherwise have had the resources to purchase a home," he says.

Pauline Levy, who heads the pro bono program, says her committee smoothes the path for participants by screening projects and streamlining training.

"The more work you put in up front to make projects work, the more successful they will be," she says.

Santona sees that success as a reflection of the corporation's core value of community service--a value the committee enthusiastically embraces.

"It's a nice convergence of the values of the place we work and a great team of people who are the sparkplugs to keep it going," she says.

E-mail your legal department's pro bono successes to mswanton@insidecounsel.com.

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