Darryl Bradford, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Exelon Corporation, started his career at Jenner & Block in the 1980s. One of the reasons he picked Jenner was its commitment to pro bono work: “There weren’t a lot of firms that said ‘It’s OK to do pro bono work,’ but Jenner said, ‘We want you to do pro bono work, and you should get out there and do that.’”
Four decades later, Bradford still maintains close ties to the 450-lawyer Jenner firm: In 2003, he joined the $27 billion energy provider Exelon, which uses the firm for much of its litigation, appellate work and regulatory proceedings.
But Bradford said: “If Jenner didn’t share our commitment to diversity and pro bono, we would not use them.”
“If you want to be one of our vendors, you need to show that you share our values, and one of the ways you could do that is through pro bono work,” he explained. “It is a great way to build a relationship with a client that goes beyond the paying arrangements you may have.”
Jenner, one of Exelon’s top five legal providers has invested heavily in pro bono: In 2014, the firm staffed 376 of its attorneys on more than 500 active pro bono matters, spending a total of 57,424 hours on those cases throughout the year, according to the firm. The American Lawyer magazine has named Jenner the No. 1 pro bono law firm five times in seven years.
In some instances, Jenner has worked on pro bono cases with clients and the matters have formed a tighter bond in the in-house/law firm relationship. Terrence Truax, managing partner of Jenner, stressed that the law firm’s involvement in pro bono was grounded in a belief that “we are privileged to be lawyers and one of our obligations is to give back to the bar.” He acknowledged, however, that the work also bolsters the firm’s business in a variety of ways.
“We benefit from it,” he said.
Below is the second installment of an interview with Truax. With the backdrop of layoffs hitting litigation practices in the law industry, Truax spoke to Big Law Business about how his litigation-heavy law firm is navigating this climate. This interview explores the business benefits of his law firm’s pro bono work.
Part II Excerpts:
It’s what attracts, frankly, some of the high-end talent that we recruit into our firm.
We partner with clients in a variety of ways in pro bono initiatives. It’s a terrific way to build relationships with our clients... It’s not a quid pro quo.
Big Law should be very focused on this and I think is increasingly becoming focused on it.
As a young lawyer I had tried several cases where I was being asked to get up in front of a jury and not only to present an opening statement or closing argument, but to cross examine a witness, where what was at stake wasn’t just money, but someone’s liberty. That is a very sharpening exercise. I think clients benefit from that.
It gives us opportunities to step into arenas where firms of our sort and our peer firms frequently don’t travel to, and I think that that is an opportunity for us to develop and hone talent.
Big Law Business: Why is pro bono such a focus at Jenner?
Truax: Pro bono and our commitment to public service generally is a core value at the firm. It’s what attracts, frankly, some of the high-end talent that we recruit into our firm. The fact that we are engaged in the public arena, the pro bono arena, representing clients of all shapes and sizes is a strong recruiting tool for us and part of our whole ethos here at Jenner. It augments our commitment to being thought leaders in a number of areas. It’s an area beyond the litigation side and the transactional side. It gives us opportunities to step into arenas where firms of our sort and our peer firms frequently don’t travel to, and I think that that is an opportunity for us to develop and hone talent that complements our commitment to developing best in class lawyers across our firm.
Big Law Business: From a business perspective, how does Jenner benefit from pro bono?
Truax: I’m not going to get into talking about specific clients, but from a very simple business development perspective, we partner with clients in a variety of ways in pro bono initiatives. It’s a terrific way to build relationships with our clients. Our clients are attracted to us because we have such a strong commitment to pro bono.
Big Law Business: How do you collaborate with clients?
Truax: Example A is that we are regularly appointed by various courts of appeals in Chicago to represent clients in an appointed capacity. We regularly present arguments to the Seventh Circuit. In the course of doing that, we will work with in-house lawyers who are our clients who are working in pro bono opportunities that might not otherwise be able to work on the case. Subject to conflicts being resolved, those in-house lawyers can get involved with us by reviewing and editing the briefing as we work on finalizing that, and participating on moot court presentation as we prepare it for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. That’s an example where we have worked with in-house lawyers who sometimes don’t have the opportunity to work on pro bono cases that we do as an outside firm.
It’s a way to continue to build, not only excellence to the pro bono client, the first and most important issue at play, but it’s an opportunity to collaborate with clients doing pro bono. We would be reaching out to clients who have expressed an interest in us.
Big Law Business: What is the value of working on clients in pro bono cases?
Truax: It’s a relationship exercise. It’s not a quid pro quo. Any law firm, of course, enjoys the privilege of having great client relationships understand that they are just that. They are relationships. Any opportunity for clients to get to know their lawyers better, and for outside counsel to know the business and the personalities that run the business, any opportunity to collaborate, is a good thing.
Big Law Business: Talk to me about Jenner’s pro bono efforts historically.
Truax: In short, our commitment to pro bono goes back a long way. Law firms, of course, back in the 1950s look differently than they do today. They were smaller obviously and probably less specialized. But our firm has historically been engaged, back in the 50s and 60s going back to Chicago to a time when one of my partners Tom Sullivan and Bert Jenner himself and a lawyer by the name of Prentice Marshall who became judge here in Illinois and was a law professor, and Jerry Solovy, began representing indigent defendants in this court system in Chicago.
Our commitment to that has expanded dramatically. Why do we do that? For a number of reasons. The practice of law is changing and it will continue to change. There are lots of forces, technology and the world economy and even our national U.S. economy, are becoming more globalized, and many firms have gotten very large and much bigger than they used to be. But at the end of the day, at Jenner, we are seen as a lawyer’s law firm, in the sense that there is this old fashioned commitment to the profession of the practice of law and it’s something that we hold very high here at Jenner & Block. There is a real sense of the privilege to be able to represent a client.
Big Law Business: How does pro bono benefit Jenner?
Truax: For example, in Chicago, you have a state court criminal system. It’s the George Leighton building, and Jenner lawyers have been litigating cases in the Leighton courthouse for many decades and they are wonderful opportunity for us to fulfill our commitment to the bar and to be an officer of the court in a courthouse that doesn’t often see Big Law lawyers come down there. We have a lot to learn from them in that arena and I think that realm has benefits form having us coming down there as well. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to develop our skills.
It’s a tremendous opportunity to go in on behalf of a client, in an arena that we are not familiar with, that is not our home court, to go in and have to creatively advocate for a client. That is something that sharpens ones skills and provides tremendous benefits to the bar generally. You have someone from the outside coming in. We benefit from it, and the arena benefits from having someone else there.
Thirdly, it’s a tremendous thing for clients. Big Law should be very focused on this and I think is increasingly becoming focused on it. In the litigation space, as a young lawyer I had tried several cases where I was being asked to get up in front of a jury and not only to present an opening statement or closing argument, but to cross examine a witness, where what was at stake wasn’t just money, but someone’s liberty. In terms of developing skill sets, that is a very sharpening exercise. I think clients benefit from that.
Big Law Business: Memorable pro bono cases?
Truax: In 1993, when I was a much younger associate, a third or fourth year associate, I handled a case for an individual by the name of Jezon Young and he was a 17 year old boy he was part of a dance group on the south side of Chicago. He was a good kid. His dance group had been using a park district field house to rehearse and it was in a territory that was controlled by a gang that didn’t appreciate that this dance group had come to practice in their park district facility. At the end of the practice, someone pulled out a gun and one person was injured and killed. Our client was put in a patty wagon brought to the police station where he was interrogated. At the end, he gave a detailed statement admitting that he was a shooter.
We tried that case, it was a difficult case. There were problems with the statement, even though it was court reported. We were able to convince the jury that the statement was not to be relied on. The jury, after deliberation, agreed and acquitted him and that was absolutely the right outcome. Since then, he moved on to get married and have kids and hold onto a job and has had a good successful track record.
[Editor’s Note: Truax also provided other pro bono victories, including the 2012 acquittal of Calvin Marshall who had been charged with murder.]