Attorneys provide pro bono legal Services to nonprofits on National Day of Service

As a business, service provider or any other kind of company, giving back to your community goes both ways. You give of time, talent or treasure – and you get back so much more in terms of volunteerism, understanding and relationships.

That is true with a special legal clinic Michigan Community Resources recently held, and the result is seven Detroit-area nonprofit organizations are now better prepared to achieve their missions after receiving pro bono services from the group.

On January 23, Michigan Community Resources (MCR) joined providers in seven other cities across the nation, from San Francisco to New York and Washington D.C., to present free legal consultations to nonprofit organizations serving the elderly, families and other vulnerable populations. The event was part of a National Day of Service for pro bono legal service providers.

Nonprofit clinic participants each received counsel from highly skilled attorneys who offered their services at no cost to participants. A total of 12 attorneys from firms including Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone P.L.C., Butzel Long, Honigman, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. assisted the eight participating nonprofits.

Catalyzing relationships
The clinic demonstrates the many ways MCR leverages the support of volunteer attorneys to provide transactional legal services to qualified nonprofits, organizers said.

“Michigan Community Resources has facilitated legal clinics for over 20 years,” Shamyle Dobbs, Chief Executive Officer for Michigan Community Resources, said in a statement. “Each clinic session illuminates not only the power of pro bono service, but also the deep commitment and impact of the nonprofit sector in our region. MCR is privileged to be positioned to catalyze relationships that result in moving the missions of nonprofit organizations in our region forward. The power in the connections forged is immeasurable.”

Organizers said that legal challenges and regulatory issues can be challenging for nonprofit leaders, who are looking to assess their financial transparency and fiscal oversight procedures. The clinic was developed collaboratively by Exponentum, a national network of business law pro bono providers including Michigan Community Resources, to help nonprofits improve their financial transparency and related compliance practices.

Attorneys from some of the oldest and most well-established firms in Michigan worked collaboratively with GM and Ford lawyers to provide guidance and support to a dynamic group of participants using the Nonprofit Financial Reporting and Tax-exempt Compliance Assessment Tool, developed by Exponentum.

Practical advice
Addressing the power of the clinic, Butzel Long attorney Paul Howarah said in a statement, “I think the key was that we were able to be really practical with our advice. We listened first to learn more about what the organization’s concerns were and identified a couple areas that could be improved upon. The individual left with a short list of immediate to-do’s that will help the nonprofit on both federal and state regulatory concerns.

“I think they were happy because we gave them advice they can handle, and we also referred them to other organizations such as MCR that can help in the future,” Howarah added. “I think they were grateful for the practical advice that we were able to offer.”

The clinic was hosted by Co.act Detroit and was made possible by funding from the Access to Justice Fund of the Michigan State Bar Foundation. An additional grant from the Tax Section of the State Bar of Michigan provided food and other support. The clinic also had the commitment to pro bono service of the attorneys involved.

Future programs for nonprofits scheduled by MCR include a workshop on real property issues faced by nonprofits in partnership with the Real Property Section of the State Bar of Michigan being planned for spring 2020. Other legal compliance clinics for nonprofit organizations will be hosted throughout the coming year. These are in addition to MCR’s regular Legal Pro Bono Referral Program, direct legal services, and Office Hours programs.

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Karen Dybis
Karen is an editor and writer for Corp! Magazine. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has worked at The Mackinac Island Town Crier, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The (Adrian) Daily Telegram and The Oakland Press. Karen was a Detroit News business writer with stints in retail, workplace issues and personal finance. Dybis also was a blogger on Time magazine's "Assignment: Detroit" project. She is author of four Michigan history books, including "Secret Detroit" and "The Witch of Delray."