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Big Law gives back through foundations

LawFirm-FoundationsBy Nathalie Pierrepont, From The Am Law Daily

While it may seem as though much of Big Law is focused on the bottom line, some of the largest firms within The Am Law 100 have established multimillion-dollar foundations with the goal of doing good.

The Am Law Daily decided to take a look at the charitable works of a handful of law firm foundations. Here’s what we found:

—The Kirkland & Ellis Foundation, founded in 1982 to support charitable and law-related organizations, doled out $9 million to more than 1,000 organizations in 2014.

One of the firm’s largest donations was a $5 million multiyear pledge made with 31 of its partners to the Northwestern University School of Law. The gift—to be spread over five years through the creation of the Kirkland & Ellis Scholarship Fund for students enrolled in the law school’s J.D.-MBA program—is one of the single largest donations in Northwestern Law’s history.

Also in 2014, Kirkland gave a big chunk of change to The Legal Aid Society, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice Equal Justice Works.

—The Jones Day Foundation reached a record high in the number of organizations it supported this year.

Established in 1987, the foundation was created to support the rule of law in developing countries; innovation in academics, medicine and the arts; the impoverished; and victims of natural disasters.

By giving close to 30 separate grants, 2014 was a year of “great diversity for our gifting,” says the foundation’s president, Lizanne Thomas, who also heads the firm’s corporate governance team and its Southern U.S. region.

One initiative of note, she says, was the foundation’s development of the Global Rule of Law Exchange with the U.K.-based Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, an organization founded in 2010 that is dedicated to the promotion of the rule of law worldwide. Through research and hosting seminars, conferences and lectures, the Exchange aims to promote and advance the rule of law around the world.

The program’s global nature exemplifies a broad theme of the Jones Day Foundation’s giving and also reflects the diversity of its board, which is composed of partners from Brazil, Italy, Shanghai, Hong Kong, England and the U.S. “I really focus on making sure we’re tending to the communities in which we live and work and benefit from,” Thomas says, pointing to causes the foundation has supported in Ohio, Boston, Bangladesh and Kenya.

The size of the Jones Day Foundation has been pretty stable in recent years, hovering around $4 million, according to its 2013 filings, but Thomas says she’s seen charitable giving and the foundation’s work enter everyday conversation at the firm.

“It has become a big part of the DNA that binds us together,” she says.

—Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s fellowship foundation, with close to $10 million in net assets, according to the most recent Form 990 posted on GuideStar from 2012, has big plans for 2015.

Earlier this month, the firm announced its latest class of Skadden Fellows, which includes 28 recent graduates and judicial clerks who will be financially supported to pursue public interest work for two years.

The fellows plan to pursue a range of legal and advocacy organizations across the country, including Veterans Legal Services, American Civil Liberties Union- Immigrants’ Rights Project, The Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The director of the foundation, Susan Butler Plum, did not respond to The Am Law Daily’s request for comment. All told, there have been 733 Skadden Fellows since the program was established in 1988, according to the website.

—The Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz Foundation reported just under $10 million on its 2012 filing posted on GuideStar. During that year, the foundation gave $1.8 million to Prep for Prep, an organization that places students of color at independent schools in New York City and throughout the Northeast; the Melanoma Research Alliance Foundation; and the Prodigal Sons and Daughters Redirection Services, a rehabilitation service for inmates. New York University also benefited from Wachtell’s generosity, with donations to the NYU Langone Medical Center, Mount Sinai NYU Medical Center and the university itself, where the firm’s founding partner and the foundation’s president, Martin Lipton, is chairman of the board of trustees. The firm did not respond to requests for comment on its foundation’s activity.

—The Sidley Austin Foundation, which reported well over $10 million in net assets on its most recent filing from 2013, also ranks highly among the charitable organizations established by the top law firms in the U.S. In 2012, the foundation supported a few hundred organizations with a near $3 million in total grants and contributions. The firm declined to comment for this article.

Illustration via iStock

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