American Airlines' Pro Bono Push

"We saw a need in the community, and in line with our corporate mission, we decided it was time to start giving back." These words have been uttered by many corporate counsel explaining why their departments decided to implement a formal corporate pro bono program. And while American Airlines wasn't different in this respect, after the program had been in place a few years, the airline kicked it up a notch.

Through the leadership of AA's General Counsel Gary Kennedy, the legal department instituted its formal pro bono initiative back in early 2005. "Some of our lawyers were doing pro bono work on their own, but Gary wanted to make more of a concerted effort. So he had his team put together a policy," explains Marjorie Powell, senior attorney at AA and the department's pro bono coordinator.

Initially, Kennedy didn't require participation in the program, and still a majority of the department's lawyers were actively involved. But in 2009, Kennedy decided to require all of his attorneys to join the effort for 10 hours each year.

"It was a little scary saying we are going to make it mandatory, because other companies weren't doing that," Powell says. "But we felt like some people may have cold feet doing something out of their comfort zone, and we wanted to give them that extra push."

To maximize efficiency, AA's legal department works closely with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP), which has a mission to enhance pro bono legal services to the poor in Dallas through the recruitment, training and support of volunteer attorneys. AA also partners with law firms Haynes & Boone, Hunton & Williams and Kelly Hart & Hallman.

Through DVAP's training and partnerships with law firms, AA's legal department has gone to great lengths to service the underprivileged of its community over the years. The work ranges from helping the elderly create wills to participating in clinics to simply answer legal questions and offer advice, handle cases, and even help complete adoptions. The team has been nominated for several awards for its work.

"For lawyers, it's the perfect way to assist the community," Powell adds. "Pro bono work really is extremely rewarding for the individuals."

And as for the mandatory participation of AA's in-house counsel, that extra push has paid off. With all 38 of the department's lawyers not only participating, but most exceeding the 10-hour requirement, at press time the initiative had already brought in 500 pro bono hours for 2010 and, according to Powell, they weren't finished tallying.

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Cathleen Flahardy

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