When The Pro Bono Project begins the process of choosing an Honorary Chair for the Justice For All Ball, we’re always looking for someone who is active as a business and community leader.
Whether they know us or not, being the Honorary Chair gives them the opportunity to get deep inside the organization with staff, Board and volunteers. It’s a true learning experience that lets us show our business and community leaders how committed the organization, through its staff, volunteers and Board, is to the civil legal health of this community.
Thus, Ball Committee Co-Chair Michael DePetrillo of Jones Walker, Executive Director Rachel Piercey, Board Chair Jan Hayden of Baker Donelson, and Ball Co-Chair and Board member Norm Rubenstein of Zeughauser Group were all thrilled when this year’s Honorary Chair accepted the position.
Marcus Brown is Entergy Corporation’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel. He’s a very busy guy – and no stranger to The Project. Marcus has sat on our Board of Directors himself and has passed that Board position on to another senior member of his legal team. He has also rolled up his sleeves and gotten a first-hand look at how The Project changes people’s lives.
As Honorary Chair, Brown and Entergy have stepped up in a big way to make sure The Project can continue to open the doors to civil justice for hundreds of metro-area families, children, seniors, small businesses and non-profits. His personal experience, Entergy’s core values, and the active involvement with pro bono work of Brown and his legal team have made this level of commitment possible.
“I grew up in a community where people rarely had access to lawyers, so I know first-hand how difficult it can be to solve many of life’s problems without their assistance. I often think about why I went to law school in the first place. It may be a cliché, but I genuinely wanted to make a difference,” explains Brown.
“While I enjoy the work I do at Entergy, the pro bono work I do is different. Through pro bono work lawyers can empower people who have nowhere else to turn. When a mother hugs you after helping her adopt a child or after blocking an eviction from her home, you remember why you went to law school. It makes you feel like a better person. And you are.”
As Entergy’s General Counsel, Brown is responsible for all legal, ethics, and compliance matters affecting Entergy Corporation and its subsidiaries, including providing counsel to the Chairman and CEO, Board of Directors, and senior management. He oversees 75 attorneys who work in 10 jurisdictional offices and in 6 practice groups, handling major transactions, regulatory proceedings, nuclear matters, litigation, environmental and employment issues. Brown, who recently completed his term on The Pro Bono Project’s Board of Directors, was recognized in 2013 along with others in Entergy’s Legal Department for their enormous contributions to The Project, which named Entergy as its Corporate Pro Bono Partner of the Year. His personal commitment to pro bono has been evident since he became Entergy’s General Counsel in 2012.
“When I became General Counsel, I spearheaded an initiative designed to get all of the 75 plus lawyers in our Company to engage in pro bono work each year. We have assembled resources in our Law Department and put in place two effective and committed leaders of this initiative to assist their colleagues in reaching that goal,” he said.
He sees this initiative as critical in strengthening the communities in which his team lives acknowledging that they are more than just lawyers, but also area residents, who live and work beside Entergy’s customers.
Brown continues, “This effort is extremely important to New Orleans and the other communities in which our lawyers work, and also to the lawyers themselves. They are more in touch with our customers, they develop personal and professional skills, and I believe they get more satisfaction from their jobs when their work includes time devoted to their own communities.”
To undertake an initiative of such magnitude and have it be successful among a team that is spread out across the Gulf South and beyond is no easy task. Buy-in from his team was just the first step. To gain the support of Entergy’s CEO and Chairman, Leo Denault, and the many internal clients, which Brown and the Legal Department serve, was a much bigger step. His best skills as a persuasive negotiator and communicator were brought to bear, and as they say, the rest is history.
With its General Counsel serving as the 2014 Justice for All Ball Honorary Chair, Entergy also made a meaningful contribution to support The Project’s mission. The Project, Brown explained, is consistent with Entergy’s core values: “Entergy’s primary philanthropic focus areas include education, poverty solutions/assistance for low income customers, and environmental programs. The mission of The Pro Bono Project — to provide assistance and counsel that helps low income individuals receive guidance, representation and other civil legal services that they could not otherwise afford — thus fits very well with those focus areas.”
Brown is committed to the work of The Project, and so is his team. Assistant General Counsel Wendy Hickok Robinson currently serves on The Project’s Board. She and her colleague, Gary Carter, serve as the key pro bono mentors to the other lawyers in the legal department. In 2013 alone, the team donated over 1,500 hours of work, with 67% of the attorneys participating in pro bono activities. They have helped clients with a range of issues, from divorces, adoptions, and name changes to wills, successions and assisting a French-speaking victim of human trafficking. The results of their efforts have been a phenomenal success for their clients and the community.
In addition, Entergy attorneys have led and staffed the Self-Help Resource Center (SHRC) at Civil District Court for Orleans Parish, providing pro bono assistance to pro se litigants on a wide range of domestic issues. Each week, the Department sends four to six attorneys to the SHRC, in two-hour shifts, assisting self-represented litigants with filling out court forms, filing pleadings, and conducting legal research. The Department has also assisted with developing form pleadings, taken the lead on recruiting and training new volunteers, and developed and implemented an efficient, coordinated approach to signing up and tracking volunteers from within the Department and from its outside partner firms.
The Entergy legal team leads by example and are effective at getting other volunteers to accept cases. Team members are often present at clinics, such as the ones sponsored for Veterans, as well as CLEs. They have even taken on one of our most labor-intensive jobs – helping The Project get out the year-end fundraising appeal by assisting in the printing, folding and stuffing envelopes with letters to over 2500 supporters.
When asked what he might say to other area businesses on why it’s important to get involved by supporting The Project financially, as well as through volunteerism and resource donations, Brown offered an insider’s look at the big picture.
“The Project’s model works. New Orleans is Entergy’s corporate home. It’s also a city where many citizens face great economic hardship. The Pro Bono Project is worthy of the business community’s support because traditional legal services organizations are stretched to capacity and are able to serve only a small segment of the poorest members of our community. The Project is able to pair the considerable skill and energy of private lawyers, such as those who work for Entergy, with clients who desperately need civil legal information and representation. Finally, all of us who live and work in the community, and the overall community itself, benefit when these civil legal needs are met,” said Brown.