In a Pandemic Year, Law Firms Gave Back Even More

Kerri Mumford and her colleagues at Landis Rath & Cobb LLP have always been sensitive to the needs of the impoverished in the bustling downtown corridor of Wilmington, Delaware. The 12-attorney commercial bankruptcy and corporate litigation boutique was a long-standing contributor to the Sunday Breakfast Mission, which provides shelter, meals, and recovery programs to the homeless and near-homeless in the region. Just five days after Delaware limited restaurants to takeout service, Landis Rath & Cobb contacted the mission to pitch a partnership. The firm had the inspired idea of helping local, independently owned restaurants stay in business while continuing to support the mission.

“We had the idea to order catering for the mission from one local restaurant each week and gave the restaurant the choice of what to serve. We were appreciative of how each restaurant we partnered with went above and beyond to provide delicious, well-rounded meals for the mission,” said Mumford. “That was March 16, 2020. I honestly can’t say that one year later I thought we’d still be doing this each week. But it has been tremendously successful, helping so many, and we love how it supports two causes at once. We never considered stopping as the weeks rolled into months.”

Pastor Joe Annese, food services director for the mission, noted that they serve approximately 500 meals a day. “Nobody is doing what LRC is doing,” said Annese. “It is a unique idea that they came up with, supporting the restaurants at the same time they are providing meals for those in need.” Meals have been catered by a variety of Wilmington’s longstanding establishments, including gastropub fare from Cavanaugh’s, Italian meals from Piccolina Toscana, breakfast sandwiches from Manhattan Bagel, pasta, and salads from DiMeo’s Pizza, and an assortment of offerings from Wildwich. There was support for Rocco’s and Sherm’s—establishments that had lost the pre-pandemic bustling lunchtime foot traffic, catered events, and simply the ability to operate their dining establishments during these challenging times.

“Our sales are down 68%, so this has really been a shot in the arm,” said Cavanaugh’s owner Tim Pawliczek. “And thanks to the idea from Landis Rath & Cobb, we’ve been able to parlay the effort into getting other law firms to participate. Every time we pull up to the mission, the gratitude just comes pouring out from everyone there.”

Landis Rath & Cobb isn’t alone in finding creative ways to help small businesses while also continuing to give back to the community, at a time when many partners and associates have not seen each other or been in the office for over a year now.

On the West Coast, global law firm Morrison & Foerster teamed up with All Home California to create CASE Force, a public-private partnership of professionals from various California-based entities, producing regularly updated guides on COVID-19 resources and offering weekly live support. The task force formed a $1 billion investment fund, built to support California’s smallest businesses so they can adapt, reopen, and recover from the effects of COVID-19.

“It is important to help small businesses in our most under-resourced communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and make up an essential part of California’s economy,” said Suz Mac Cormac, lead of the Morrison & Foerster pro bono team advising the fund and the firm’s efforts with CASE Force. “Small businesses can lead the recovery from this pandemic but not without a concerted effort to reach and support them.”

Moving Social Responsibility into a Higher Gear

Oakland, California-based Wendel Rosen, with 67 attorneys in three offices, has put its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee into overdrive during the past year.

“We needed to do what we could to help others in these unimaginably trying times,” said CSR committee chair Gregg Ankenman. “So we actively approached this in several ways, with members of the firm devoting over 1,000 hours since the start of the pandemic.”

Wendel’s approach included community service projects, leadership roles, and financial contributions to support numerous nonprofits and community organizations and causes; and pro bono and other free legal services to individuals, nonprofits, and community groups. The beneficiaries of their efforts included Legal Access Alameda’s Legal First Responder and Free Legal Answer programs, which provide legal assistance to victims of wildfires and other natural disasters, and were expanded to serve those suffering from the various impacts of the pandemic; and 20 Days of Giving and Virtual Food Drive campaigns that raised enough to provide 2,020 meals, and more than $40,000 for local food banks and community groups. A virtual MLK Day of Service that included bagged lunches and notes for the homeless also was held, and stretched into Valentine’s Day. These were just a few of a laundry list of giving-back initiatives the firm undertook (expanded upon, or pivoted to virtual for) over the last year.

Access to Justice

In May, Munger Tolles helped launch LA Represents, a pro bono initiative to provide free legal services to Los Angeles residents facing hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our firm is deeply committed to contributing to the communities we serve through pro bono work. We helped launch LA Represents early on in the pandemic to provide immediate and impactful legal services to Los Angeles residents facing COVID-19-related hardships,” said Hailyn Chen, co-managing partner of the firm. “We are proud of our lawyers who continue to advise Angelenos who need support most right now, ranging from vulnerable tenants and the unemployed to victims of domestic violence and small businesses facing bankruptcy.”

Food Banks Need (Cyber) Security

During the 2020 holiday season, Cozen O’Connor, with nearly 800 attorneys in 30 cities, launched its Help the Hungry Initiative, asking employees to donate money and promising a 1:1 match from the firm’s foundation. The donation drive ended in early 2021 with $56,000 raised from employee contributions, matched by the firm’s foundation, donating over $100k to local food banks.

“We are committed to giving back to the communities where we work and live and this food bank drive was another chance to do that,” said Cozen managing partner Vincent R. McGuinness, Jr. “Then we were shocked to learn that one of those food banks was the victim of a million-dollar cyberattack. As a result, our cybersecurity consulting subsidiary COSEC began offering up to five hours of consulting and assessment services to any nonprofit or charity who would benefit from a cybersecurity assessment.”

Helping Veterans, Training Lawyers

Intellectual property law firm Finnegan was able to help those in need while also providing a development opportunity for new lawyers by partnering with the National Veteran’s Legal Services Program (NVLSP). With a need for interns and legal volunteers to help with some of the challenges created by COVID-19, this was a win-win.

“Due to the pandemic, Finnegan delayed the start date for our first-year associates, but we still wanted them to continue their development as attorneys in the interim,” said partner Beth Ferrill. “We were so excited that our long-standing partner, NVLSP, was able to offer a number of the associates internships.”

One of those associates, Kaitlyn Pehrson, spent several months at NVLSP screening discharge upgrade cases for pro bono placement. “I found it very rewarding helping veterans who were unfairly given a discharge with a character of service other than ’Honorable,’ often for reasons tied to mental health struggles. Putting together the pieces of the veterans’ military service and life after discharge to make the strongest case possible helped me hone my legal skills.”

The Pandemic was Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Hanson Bridgett, with 170 attorneys in California, reprioritized pro bono work toward racial and social justice and supporting minority-owned small businesses as vendors and prospective clients. This included organizing webinars for the Bay Area Organization of Black-Owned Businesses, matching all personal contributions for qualified charities up to $1,000 per individual, and engaging in election protection activities for the 2020 general election.

“The hardships brought on by COVID have been life-altering, and alone would have called for unprecedented aid from the legal community. But when you layer on the many other serious issues that needed to be addressed and supported in 2020 – from Black Lives Matter to natural disasters like the California wildfires to the things so many of us take for granted such as the ability to vote – it became incumbent upon us as lawyers and leaders to step up and do whatever we could to help,” said Hanson Bridgett managing partner Kristina Lawson. “I’m hopeful that the many firms that expanded on and even reinvented their approaches to giving back will continue doing so going forward. We certainly will.”

About the Author

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney who works with law firms on marketing and business development and is a past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. Micah is the associate editor of Law Practice Today’s Board of Editors. He can be reached at or 856.234.4334, and on Twitter at @mbuchdahl.

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