Community Change and Innovation: Law Firms Make Virtual Help a Reality

​The director of Fenwick & West’s pro bono program, Julie Park, and litigation associate Brian Lahti both spoke with the San Francisco Business Times about their work with the Virtual Pro Bono Project—a program that Fenwick was instrumental in creating.

The “virtual” component involves the use of web conferencing technology that allows the pro bono attorneys to meet with low-income people in under-served areas. No one has to travel far on the Bay Area’s crowded highways; the clients can go to their local library for a free 20-minute web conference while the attorneys remain in their offices.

The arrangement is helpful for both lawyer and client, Lahti told the Business Times. “They can spend more time on the issues at hand,” he said. Typical consultations involve advice on tenant rights, small claims, employment or family law.

Park helped develop the program in 2012, after she was contacted by the general counsel of Cisco, Van Dang, about the idea of using virtual technology to provide legal advice. The goal was to reach under-served urban and rural Bay Area communities such as East Palo Alto, Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

“It didn’t make sense for our attorneys to drive an hour in rush-hour traffic to get to a client,” Park noted. Instead, these towns were the first to have the web conferencing option available at local libraries.

The Virtual Pro Bono Project exemplifies the firm’s long tradition of providing free legal services, a tradition that began with founder Bill Fenwick and continues under Patrick Premo, Fenwick litigation partner and chair of the pro bono program.

“We have developed a culture of expectation for pro bono work,” said Park. “We really talk the talk.”

The full article is available through the San Francisco Business Times website.