Trademark counsel Adam Brink was thrilled when Laura Stein came on board as general counsel of The Clorox Co. in 2005. Not only did she bring valuable leadership experience as the former GC of the H.J. Heinz Co., but she also had a passion for pro bono—something he had been wanting to prioritize within the Clorox legal department.
“With her support and encouragement, we set up a pro bono committee and drafted a mission statement,” Brink says.
The committee aimed to have a strong local impact, so it focused on projects benefitting low-income individuals in Oakland, Calif., where Clorox is headquartered.
One of the first places Clorox lawyers got involved was the Family Violence Law Center, which helps victims of domestic violence get restraining orders against their abusers. Soon after, Clorox lawyers also began working on Project Clean Slate at the East Bay Community Law Center, headquartered nearby in Berkeley. The project works with individuals who have criminal records to help them successfully re-enter society. Clorox lawyers assist them in drafting declarations they can present to judges, who can then expunge certain types of criminal offenses from their records so that they have better chances of obtaining jobs or housing.
Clorox lawyers are still involved with the Family Violence Law Center and Project Clean Slate, but Brink says they soon will have even more pro bono options. “We are going through a refresh right now,” he says. “Our department has grown, and we want to examine how the pro bono program can be improved. Our goal is to find initiatives that enable everybody to feel like they can participate.”
Brink says the committee has soft-launched two new initiatives that will become much larger in 2013. One project is the Housing Negotiation Clinic, through which Clorox lawyers team up with Morrison & Foerster to represent tenants in disputes with their landlords. The other project is volunteering through the California Lawyers for the Arts, which helps people in the arts community with intellectual property-related issues. “About a third of the attorneys in our department focus their time on IP, so this is a good initiative for us,” Brink says.
Brink says there are three reasons Clorox has seen success in its pro bono program. First, the pro bono committee comprises individuals who serve as liaisons between the legal department and the organizations where Clorox lawyers volunteer. “They’re a huge part of this program,” Brink says. “Not only do they volunteer their time, but they also communicate the organizations’ needs and coordinate all the efforts for the department.”
Second, Clorox’s pro bono program doesn’t infringe on employees’ personal time. “Laura wanted to make very clear that these initiatives are during working hours, and it’s valuable enough to the community and Clorox that people take time from their work to volunteer,” Brink says.
Finally, and most importantly, he says, volunteerism is ingrained in Clorox’s culture. “There’s a very real culture of being part of the community here,” he says. “As a lawyer, being part of the community means volunteering, but it also means using our legal skills.”