|“An important part of our culture is the idea that as a profession first and a business
second, we have an obligation to give back to the community."
| - Gregory Varallo, President of the Firm
Richards, Layton & Finger’s commitment to serving others runs deep. For more than a century, our lawyers have been acknowledged leaders of the Delaware bar, and our firm has played an important role in building and improving our community. We take this leadership role seriously, investing significant time and resources to develop our attorneys and professionals into dedicated community leaders.
We maintain a robust pro bono program that encourages our attorneys to donate their talent to projects and programs that resonate with them personally and contribute to improving the lives of others. Our pro bono program is led by a firm attorney whose entire practice is dedicated to facilitating and expanding our pro bono efforts, working with individual attorneys to identify projects that match their service interests and coordinating our formal pro bono teams that work to meet specific legal needs in our community.
In 2016, Richards Layton attorneys devoted more than 6300 hours to pro bono work and community service. This number reflects the contributions of 80 percent of the firm’s associates, 72 percent of our directors, and 80 percent of our counsel.
PRO BONO TEAMS
Our pro bono program features standing pro bono teams that enable our attorneys to receive specialized training and provide valuable assistance to those in need in our community and beyond.
The 29 members of our Office of the Child Advocate Team serve as guardians ad litem for children involved in child welfare proceedings in Family Court, which includes working directly with each child and making sure he or she receives much-needed social services. In 2016, the team represented 35 disadvantaged children in often complex abuse and neglect cases.
Many of our attorneys—39 of them—donate substantial time with Delaware Volunteer Legal Services (DVLS), which provides quality pro bono legal services to indigent residents throughout the state. Through DVLS, our Protection from Abuse Team helps victims of domestic violence obtain protection from abuse orders to prevent violence and abuse between domestic partners. The Estate Planning Team assists with will preparation, health care directives, durable powers of attorney, and other estate-planning needs. These pro bono teams hold training seminars for our younger lawyers throughout the year, which often feature judges and other experts as guest speakers.
Our firm also assists those who cannot afford lawyers’ fees by participating in the Federal Civil Panel, representing indigent plaintiffs pro bono in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware in cases that often involve civil rights violations.
The members of our Nonprofit Team, drawing on their deep knowledge of corporate law and skill in handling transactional and governance matters, are involved in forming and representing Delaware nonprofits that have a positive impact in our community and beyond. This 39-member team provides pro bono assistance to nonprofit corporations on the full range of formation and governance matters, including drafting incorporation documents, preparing filings for tax-exempt status, answering legal questions, and serving on boards of directors.
Our Nonprofit Team works for organizations within Delaware and organizations formed and governed by Delaware law. We partner with the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA), which supports and strengthens nonprofits in Delaware. Through DANA, we have handled a variety of pro bono projects for several nonprofits that serve our state, including entity formation, board service, and board counseling.
Our attorneys have also represented nonprofits doing crucial work in other parts of the world. Through our partnership with Lex Mundi, we have provided ongoing pro bono legal services, such as assisting with corporate restructuring and governance issues, to mothers2mothers, an international nonprofit organization working to eradicate pediatric HIV by training, employing, and empowering mothers living with HIV. This important work was cited among the reasons Richards Layton was chosen to receive the 2014 Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award for the North American region. Another of our pro bono projects cited by the international Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation was our work with APOPO, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Tanzania that trains rats to detect both landmines and tuberculosis. We assisted APOPO with the formation of two Delaware corporations and its application for tax-exempt status to perform research to develop and train the search-and-rescue rats.
PRO BONO INITIATIVES
Our pro bono program encourages attorneys to pursue projects that are meaningful to them, giving them an opportunity to donate their time and skills to address significant problems in our local community and across the state. One of our largest pro bono projects has been our ongoing work on behalf of a development project in a distressed area of Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city. We represent Central Baptist Community Development Corporation in connection with its Eastside Rising project, which is an effort to revitalize Wilmington’s Eastside community through housing improvement, workforce development, and economic empowerment. Efforts so far include making fresh produce and healthy food available in the community, training and placing community members in skill-based jobs, and renovating housing to promote affordable home ownership. The success of this initiative has already begun to improve both the infrastructure and quality of life in a significant part of our community, only three blocks from the firm’s office.
Our lawyers helped the Delaware National Guard with complex dissolution and merger matters as well as the formation of the Delaware National Guard & Reserve Emergency Assistance Fund, which provides much-needed assistance to local families facing financial hardships at home due to overseas deployments post 9/11. In recognition of this work, Major General Francis Vavala, Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard, presented three Richards Layton attorneys with the Delaware Distinguished Service Medal, usually reserved for military personnel, in recognition of their countless hours of valuable pro bono service and “their demonstration through action of a core value in the military of ‘Service before Self.’”
As community leaders, we are deeply involved in service projects that enhance the lives of our neighbors. For many years we have been dedicated to educating and mentoring children and others in our community. Our Bancroft Mentoring Team provides weekly tutoring in reading and math to elementary school children at Bancroft Academy in Wilmington. The goal of this program is to help the children realize their potential by building their self-esteem, self-confidence, communication skills, social values, aspirations, and scholastic achievement. We have established a resource center in the firm’s library to provide educational activities and games for our mentors to use with their mentees.
Our C.A.R.E. Team (Credit Abuse Resistance Education) consists of attorneys who have been trained to deliver financial literacy seminars to vulnerable populations in Delaware, including seniors, students, and low-income residents. Topics include basic finance and budgeting, buying and maintaining a car, home ownership for first-time home buyers, banking and credit cards, and discharging or modifying student loans. The C.A.R.E. program is jointly sponsored by the Delaware Bankruptcy American Inn of Court and Pro Bono Inn of Court.
Throughout each year our lawyers and staff join together in large numbers to participate in a variety of community service projects. One of our traditions is the annual Martin Luther King Day of Service, when our volunteers spend the day on projects such as collecting, purchasing, and delivering food and supplies to a school in an impoverished neighborhood, renovating a USO center, repairing and painting an addiction center, and donating and delivering blankets, coats, food, and clothing to local homeless shelters.
Every year the firm organizes a Holiday Food Drive and participates in the Adopt-a-Child Holiday Gift Drive—and every year our lawyers and staff can be counted on for their extraordinarily generous donations to those less fortunate in our community. The firm also has a long tradition of volunteering to serve lunch at the Emmanuel Dining Room, which is located in an economically depressed area and feeds nutritious, hot meals at no cost to people in need. Throughout the year, the firm supports various nonprofits through a “jeans day” fundraiser at the office.
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
Our firm and our lawyers have been honored with numerous awards for our pro bono service. A sample from the last five years includes:
- A Richards Layton attorney received the Delaware State Bar Association’s 2015 Christopher W. White Distinguished Access to Justice Commitment Award, which is presented to a Delaware lawyer who has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to pro bono for our state’s underserved populations.
- In 2014, three firm attorneys were awarded the Delaware Distinguished Service Medal, usually reserved for military personnel, in recognition of their countless hours of valuable pro bono service to assist the Delaware National Guard.
- Richards Layton received the 2014 Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award for the North American region. One of only four award recipients worldwide, the firm was recognized for its work with organizations that tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems.
- A Richards Layton attorney was presented with the 2014 President’s Award by the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association for his extensive pro bono work on behalf of Delaware’s volunteer fire and ambulance services.
- A Richards, Layton & Finger attorney received the 2012 Commissioner’s Award from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, a prestigious national award honoring one recipient from each state for making an exceptional contribution to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.
- Richards Layton received the DSBA’s 2011 Christopher W. White Distinguished Access to Justice Leadership Award, given to a law firm that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the field of pro bono services to Delaware’s indigent population.