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Dedicated to service: Get to know the NJSBA Pro Bono Award winners for 2022 – Reed Smith LLP and Merck & Co.

January 23, 2023
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
Tel: 732-937-7527
[email protected] 
NEW BRUNSWICK – On Feb. 15, the NJSBA will recognize 20 individuals across six award categories for their outstanding commitment to providing pro bono legal services to New Jersey’s underserved residents. Hear from two of the winners—Reed Smith LLP and Merck & Co., Inc—on why it’s important for international law firms and corporate legal departments to maintain a vibrant pro bono practice.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles featuring this year’s award recipients. The responses have been lightly edited.
Reed Smith LLP—Pillar of Justice Award
The Pillar of Justice Award recognizes significant and innovative pro bono contributions of law firms toward advancing access to justice. The award will be presented to attorneys Melissa Geist, Julia Lopez and John McDonald of Reed Smith for their pro bono work including providing legal representation to immigrant children, performing closings for families in affordable housing, among other projects. The three attorneys offered their perspective on pro bono work.
Why is it important for law firms—especially international firms like Reed Smith—to perform pro bono services?
Our pro bono work represents our firm’s values in action and is part of our mission as a progressive global law firm. We are proud that the firm’s pro bono practice continues to grow and make up a critical part of the firm’s response to major business and legal events. It is important for us as a law firm to be an active member of our society. In Princeton, two of our attorneys—who are immigrants themselves—recognized from their personal experience how they could make an impact on their client’s lives and families through their work with Kids In Need of Defense. Indeed, there is nothing more rewarding than helping a client have a real opportunity at achieving the American Dream. In 2022, Reed Smith devoted over 92,000 pro bono hours firmwide supporting communities and people in need—our highest total number of hours in the firm’s history.
How do Reed Smith attorneys balance pro bono work with their professional responsibilities?
The importance we place on pro bono work is reflected in the firm’s policy, where up to 140 hours of pro bono time per year counts towards lawyers’ chargeable targets. Pro bono is also one way in which we develop our relationships with our in-house counsel clients. We partner with our fee-earning clients on pro bono work to increase capacity and offer more support to our pro bono clients.
Merck & Co., Inc.—Mark Daniel Excellence in Pro Bono Award
The Mark Daniel Award recognizes exemplary pro bono efforts of corporate legal departments. In the last year, Merck’s legal department worked with 30 different organizations on pro bono projects. Five attorneys with Merck will be honored. They are: Mark Benevenia and Vance Camisa, who assisted with the annual lease negotiations for a Polish supplementary school; Michelle M. D’Agostino and Scott Kauffman, who worked with the Hope House to offer a wide array of programs to the elderly, disabled and people with AIDS or substance abuse issues; and Jeff Gruen, who has educated nonprofits on New Jersey’s sick leave law. The award follows the tradition set by the late Mark Daniel, who helped found Merck’s corporate pro bono program in 1994. He was also influential in championing pro bono causes as a longtime member of the NJSBA’s Pro Bono Committee.
How has Merck’s pro bono practice grown over the years?
The Merck Pro Bono program started in 1994 with a core group of seven patent attorneys and four administrative associates in the patent department. Merck’s pro bono program has grown globally to include more than 120 attorneys, paralegals and other staff across all levels of the organization, who in the last two years provided approximately 4,600 hours of pro bono legal services.
Why is it important for corporate legal departments to perform pro bono services?
Merck believes that providing pro bono services is our responsibility as a good corporate citizen. Committing our legal skills to help the communities in which we live and operate is consistent with our company’s mission: to ensure that every life is treated with dignity and respect by doing what we can to improve human lives and reduce human suffering. The nonprofit organizations we collaborate with through the Merck Pro Bono Program provide vital services to our communities, which would not be available without the partnership of corporate law departments like ours. We work to support our attorneys and staff to ensure they can successfully focus on both pro bono activities and professional responsibilities. We know that people do their best work when they are part of a committed and supportive team. One way our volunteers balance pro bono work with their Merck responsibilities is by partnering with another Merck attorney or staff member to share the workload.

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
Email: [email protected]


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