In 2008, some General Electric Co. lawyers were discouraged. The legal department at the global technology, services and finance company had a 10-year-old, formal pro bono program in place, but a majority of the projects were geared toward lawyers located near the GE headquarters in Fairfield, Conn.
“We have a global legal department, and our mission is to have a global pro bono program,” explains Eileen Brumback, senior vice president and general counsel of GE Real Estate, the investment arm of GE Capital.
Fueled with a desire to change the structure of GE’s pro bono program, Brumback approached GC Brackett Denniston. “I suggested we find a reputable global organization that we could rally around in terms of its mission, and also that would provide a lot of pro bono opportunities for our lawyers,” she says.
Brumback’s top candidate was Dress for Success, an international non-profit organization founded in 1997. The organization’s original purpose was to provide business suits to low-income women who were going on job interviews, but it has since expanded its goal.
“We are focused on ensuring that women thrive both in work and in life,” says Joi Gordon, a former lawyer and current CEO of Dress for Success. “We do that by giving her the tool, which is the suit, for her to go into that interview with self-confidence and self-worth, but more importantly, we give her the toolbox, which is the support and professional development skills she needs to maintain her employment.”
It is this toolbox that intrigued Brumback. Not only could GE lawyers help Dress for Success with legal work, such as reviewing contracts and negotiating leases, but they also could help Dress for Success clients with career development and employment retention. Brumback met with Gordon, and the women soon launched GE’s pro bono program at the non-profit’s New York location.
“The goal was to develop programs that we could then roll out in successive cities where both Dress for Success and GE have a presence,” Brumback says.
The most successful initiative to come from the program is the Interview Skills Workshop, a clinic in which GE lawyers and lawyers from Allen & Overy arrange speakers and participate in mock interviews with Dress for Success clients.
Another thriving program is the Professional Women’s Group, which is designed for Dress for Success clients who have landed jobs. It focuses on legal-related topics, such as harassment in the workplace and financial literacy, as well as professional development topics, such as speaking and presentation skills.
Within three years, GE and Dress for Success have expanded the pro bono program to seven cities: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Mexico City, Cincinnati and Fairfield, Conn. Three other cities—Dallas, Paris and Sydney—are in the works.
“We want to grow responsibly and not so fast that it’s not sustainable,” Brumback says. “The idea is to continue to add a few cities every year and continue to build this institution-to-institution partnership.”