Heroes For Justice: The Next Generation Pro Bono Lawyer

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Millennials are changing the philanthropic landscape, and law firm associates like Courtney Lawrence and Alexandra Olson are changing the way the legal community supports Legal Aid’s work. In 2003, a group of associates in Minneapolis started the Associates’ Campaign in conjunction with The Fund for Legal Aid’s One Hour of Sharing Annual Campaign. The annual campaign encourages all lawyers in Hennepin County to contribute the value of at least one billable hour.

As lead co-chairs for the 2017 Associates’ Campaign, Lawrence and Olson led a record- breaking campaign, raising more than $108,000. This will pay for the salaries of two Legal Aid lawyers who provide free civil legal help to clients who would otherwise be turned away due to lack of resources.

“Legal Aid is one of many worthwhile causes out there,” Olson says. “But a unique aspect of the campaign is that we focus speci fically on lawyers, who understand the difference that representation in the legal process can make. I can’t fathom having to navigate our legal system without representation and guidance. We hope that personal understanding translates into financial support for Legal Aid’s mission.”

Olson, a new lead co-chair in 2017, practices intellectual property law at Carlson, Caspers, Vandenburgh, Lindquist & Schuman P.A. She joined veteran co-chair Courtney Lawrence, an associate on Faegre Baker Daniels LLP’s food litigation and regulatory practice team. As lead co-chairs, they are also members of The Fund for Legal Aid board and executive committee.

“I started volunteering with the Associates’ Campaign during my first year at my firm,” says Lawrence. “I was familiar with Legal Aid’s incredibly important work, so I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. I feel the same excitement each year when we start to brainstorm new ideas with the many associates who help lead the campaign.”

Months before the campaign’s kickoff, Lawrence and Olson assembled a team of nine co-chairs. They maximized balance and reach, inviting new and experienced cochairs from firms of different sizes and types of legal practice. The co-chair team then reached out to their connections to recruit over 60 law firm captains.

“Personal connections are critical,” says Olson. “Ask anyone involved and they will tell you about the difference a personal appeal can make. It’s what makes the campaign’s structure successful; each firm captain works personally with associates at their firm to help achieve the campaign’s goals.”

The firms carried out a friendly competition, striving for top numbers and participation. Associates from Robins Kaplan LLP, top donors for many years, brought in a record $13,594, with full participation. Nearly half of the 56 participating firms had full participation, with every associate giving a personal contribution to Legal Aid.

This year’s campaign received an extra boost from 32 Emerging Leaders – associates who make a personal gift of $500 or more. Emerging Leaders from 14 different firms, with gifts ranging from $500 to over $1,000, pushed the numbers up considerably.

“Emerging Leaders are integral to the success of the campaign,” Olson says. “They go above and beyond the requested one billable hour donation because they truly understand and believe in the importance of Legal Aid’s work.”

Lawrence will return as lead co-chair in 2018. Olson, now a partner, will carry her understanding of and passion for Legal Aid’s work into the next stage of her career.

“One of the best parts about working with the campaign is meeting the many individuals who work and volunteer for Legal Aid,” says Lawrence. “Each person has a different story, a different background, but we all have the same passion – supporting justice.”  Leykn Schmatz

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