pro bono service
Not long after America's automobile manufacturers retooled their operations to remain profitable, Robert Mossel embarked on a similar undertaking within the Ford Motor Company legal department. Mossel, Ford's pro bono chairman, spearheaded an effort to refocus the program to better address community needs and determine how the corporation's 85 in-house attorneys could use their skills to have the greatest impact on the state.
The result? Ford attorneys are now involved in a number of legal programs ranging from food-stamp clinics and criminal expungements to nonprofit assistance and veterans' benefits projects. For example, Mossel was instrumental in the collaboration between Ford and the Legal Aid and Defender Association on a pilot project to help individuals and families not receiving food stamps or not getting the maximum allowable benefit despite being eligible. Ford volunteers meet with clients to determine whether they're entitled to receive food stamps and help them apply for initial benefits or request increased benefits. To date, Legal Aid estimates clients have received $180,000 in food-stamp benefits they otherwise would not have gotten.
The program was an immediate success; in 2011, the Legal Aid and Defender Association received the Pro Bono Best Practice Award from the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals. "It's no surprise the program has won awards, but Rob has not yet been commended for his leadership," wrote Heidi Naasko, Dykema's national pro bono and diversity counsel. "One of the central reasons for this success is Rob's leadership by example." In addition to the food-stamp clinic, Ford attorneys also volunteer to help low-income clients expunge their criminal records (many people cannot get jobs or housing because of prior criminal convictions) by providing advice on the court process and reviewing and finalizing pleadings. Through the first six clinics, attorneys have helped approximately 200 clients.
Thanks to Mossel's leadership, Ford, Dykema, and Community Legal Resources combined to create the Nonprofits Survival Clinic, which helps nonprofit agencies implement legal strategies to improve their financial health. A volunteer attorney meets with nonprofit staffers to review legal issues affecting financial stability, evaluate issues that may impact the organization, and identify strategies to address them.
"Our work would be impossible," wrote Michigan Immigrant Rights Center supervising attorney Susan Reed, "without the support and adventuresome spirit of pro bono leaders in the private bar like Mossel."
—Mike Eidelbes, Lynn Ingram, and Samantha Meinke
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Robert G. Mossel
The John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award fosters awareness of the need for involvement of the private bar in delivering legal services to the poor, by giving public recognition each year to a Michigan lawyer who has made a significant pro bono contribution to this effort. The award is established in the name of John W. Cummiskey of Grand Rapids, a leading advocate and activist in the cause of making legal services available to all, without regard to economic status.