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ISBA Business Law Section helps nonprofits

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While many attorneys may want to do pro bono work, not all of them are comfortable taking on what could end up being a lengthy and possibly complicated family law case, which is the majority of cases the pro bono districts around the state tend to handle.

So when the Business Law Council of the Business Law Section of the Indiana State Bar Association decided to start the Pro Bono Program for Nonprofits, the intent was not only to help the organizations that otherwise couldn’t afford legal help, but also to give an opportunity to business law attorneys who already have the expertise to deal with some of the issues.
 

Johnson-Bradford F. Bradford Johnson helped structure a pro bono program to help nonprofits. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The program’s organizers, including F. Bradford Johnson of Ittenbach Johnson Trettin & Koeller in Indianapolis, plan to work more closely with the plan administrators of the pro bono districts in the coming months, including a discussion at the upcoming annual meeting held in conjunction with the ISBA annual meeting in mid-October.

While the pro bono representation is the main goal of the program, other goals include partnering with government and nonprofit organizations to conduct seminars and workshops around the state, and to have a list of mentors who would be available to volunteer attorneys when issues arise that the volunteer attorney may not be able to handle on her own.

Johnson said the business law section has about 850 members and the program has been received favorably.

“We want to create a referral network for small nonprofit organizations that have legal needs that aren’t being met because one, they’re small, and two, they’re nonprofit,” he said.

The program is similar to the Community Development Law Center in Indianapolis, which has concentrated its efforts on nonprofits and faith-based organizations in central Indiana with a focus on community improvements for about 18 years.


Sheila Jenkins Jenkins

Sheila Jenkins, executive director of CDLC, met with Johnson when the idea for the program first came about.

“I think it is praiseworthy to have any kind of pro bono service available to nonprofits or faith-based organizations that have limited resources and need counsel,” she said.

One difference between CDLC and the program is the CDLC rarely helps organizations outside central Indiana, and the business law section program plans to have a statewide reach. Johnson said he was trying to be mindful of what CDLC does when determining the program’s structure.

For nonprofits that do have an interest in receiving free legal help from the program, there is an application that gathers information about the nature of the organization and what issues they would like to address.

Volunteer attorneys will also complete questionnaires about their expertise and what they are willing to do, and from there the attorneys will be matched with organizations in their area.


Jeff Nickloy Nickloy

Jeffrey Scott Nickloy of Campbell Kyle Proffitt in Noblesville, a volunteer with the program, has been working with a nonprofit organization in Terre Haute. He has been working with the client since early this year and was willing to travel about two hours due to some of the specific issues the organization was facing.

While Nickloy used to handle pro bono family law cases when he was a family law attorney, and has continued to take a range of pro bono cases from time to time, he said he got involved with this particular program because he wanted to support the Business Law Council and Johnson’s efforts for getting the program’s structure together.

“The other part of the why was what the potential client wanted to do, which included some business reorganization work, along with overlying contract issues, areas I have a lot of experience with. I felt like I was qualified to tackle their issues,” he said.

While he wouldn’t name the client, other than to say it was a nonprofit organization that meets the needs of the Terre Haute community, he would say his pro bono representation has included meetings with the board of directors and an evaluation of their organizational documents. He has also looked over the contract issues that they have, including some leasing issues.

From there, he proposed a reorganization plan, including help with the appropriate language to achieve what the client wants to do.

“It is the kind of thing that I think the council had in mind when it adopted this program in the first place,” he said. “To reach out and try to help not-for-profit organizations that seem to be serving a community purpose and need legal help and can’t afford to hire somebody to do the things they need done.”

He said based on this experience he would likely take another pro bono client for the program, but he wouldn’t take on more than one at a time.

“Anything you can do to benefit a not-for-profit in your community usually ends up helping the community as a whole,” he said.

Johnson added a number of attorneys have expressed an interest in volunteering, but so far they have received about a half dozen requests for help, in addition to a few questions that could be easily answered in a phone call or brief meeting.

“For instance, one wanted to get 501c3 recognition and didn’t know where to start, so I got them started. There have been some situations like that, some calls from nonprofits concerned with their tax returns,” he said.


Monica Fennell Fennell

Monica Fennell, executive director of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, said the plan administrators are aware of the program, but for the most part don’t know much about it. She welcomed the opportunity for plan administrators who may get requests from small nonprofit organizations, but may not be able to handle them with their current pools of volunteer attorneys.

“Although the pro bono districts can train an attorney with nonprofit expertise to take a family law case, there are some attorneys who will never take a pro bono family law case but would be happy to take a pro bono project in their area of expertise,” she said via e-mail. “This project should be very useful in providing a pro bono opportunity for attorneys with nonprofit skills and knowledge. I applaud the business law section for taking the initiative and creating this project to fill an unmet need.”

R. Scott Wylie, a co-plan administrator for the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, which oversees District 13 based in Evansville, said the program could fill a need in his district.

“In these times of increasing demand for services and downward pressure on fundraising, many nonprofit groups that serve vulnerable and low-income populations in Indiana don’t have the funds to pay for an attorney when they need one,” he said via e-mail.

“While many of our pro bono districts offer help to nonprofit groups like we do in Evansville, the need is still more than most of us can address. This is especially so in our more rural counties where there may be no local attorney familiar with nonprofit law. The work of the business law section should go a long way in helping to address that need. I hope their work becomes widely known and is utilized as yet another tool for our state’s lawyers to serve the needs of the poor in our community.”

For more information or for a nonprofit organization to request legal help through the program, contact Johnson via e-mail, fbjohnson@ijtklaw.com.•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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