SGR is very concerned about the community and the people therein. From the very beginning, pro bono activities have been an integral part of our culture. We collaborate with various not-for-profit organizations to impact the lives of so many in need. Not only does society as a whole benefit, but our lives are enriched, as well.
E. Smythe Gambrell, our name partner, founded the Atlanta Legal Aid Society in 1924 and served as its president for almost two decades. His spirit continues to inspire our pro bono activities eight decades later.
As the Firm grew through the 20th century, our practice of law continued to focus on serving those in need. In recent years, we have reviewed and refreshed our commitment throughout the organization. Staff members and summer associates alike enjoy being a part of the community by reaching out to those less fortunate.
A Culture of Caring
Partner Tom Rhodes, a tireless pro bono advocate, says the work of helping others is so central to the Firm’s mission that, “I don’t believe a lawyer could be happy here trying to buck that culture.”
Our efforts are guided by a written policy that affirms: “The Firm considers pro bono service an important professional responsibility of each attorney.” Attorneys and paralegals are expected to commit at least 60 hours each year to work on behalf of pro bono clients, with the work credited toward annual billable hours. As an extra incentive to our staff, pro bono performance is a consideration in bonus and compensation decisions.
The Firm has recently completed a comprehensive survey of partners and associates to determine areas of pro bono and community interest. The goal is to match people, passions and projects in the service of others.
As a signatory to the national Pro Bono Challenge created by the nonprofit Pro Bono Institute, Smith, Gambrell & Russell is dedicated to “fully integrat[ing] pro bono into the practice, philosophy and culture” of the Firm. Participation in this national initiative permits us to share inspiration and best practices with other large firms.
We also participate in the Pro Bono Group, a local network of Atlanta-based pro bono partners and coordinators. The Group collaborates to effectively discover and resolve diverse issues within the community.
Historically, SGR lawyers have worked closely with Atlanta Legal Aid and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF) to represent and protect the rights of the needy.
Since its inception, we have been active in the AVLF Saturday Lawyer’s Program. Attorneys who participate, volunteer on Saturdays to screen and meet with clients in cases involving wage claims, landlord-tenant disputes, debt relief, contract issues and other matters. Our lawyers find this program deeply satisfying, as they really enjoy making a difference in the lives of such appreciative clients in need.
Smith, Gambrell & Russell is a member of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, a private nonprofit organization created at the request of President Kennedy in 1963. Volunteers pursue equal opportunity for minorities by addressing factors that contribute to racial justice and economic opportunity.
Environmental justice is a long-standing priority at SGR. Our pro bono efforts have been championed by partner Steve O’Day, who heads the Firm’s Environmental Law Practice. Steve was recently honored by the Southern Environmental Law Center for three decades of service. He is a board member of the center and is a trustee of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and past trustee of The Georgia Conservancy. Steve’s passionate environmental advocacy has led litigation to establish strong environmental protections and waste-management policies.
SGR lawyers are taking a bite out of injustice through the Georgia Appleseed Project. The nonprofit organization is spearheading JUSTGeorgia, a comprehensive public-policy initiative to rewrite the state’s juvenile code and provide additional protections for the state’s children.
In order to assess stakeholders’ perceptions of the current juvenile code, lawyers from SGR and other law firms are conducting in-depth inquiries of suspects, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, educators, case managers and mental health providers. The data will be analyzed and used to develop a comprehensive report to inform and guide legislators.
At the end of the day, Smith Gambrell & Russell is a caring community of lawyers who embrace pro bono opportunities because “it is the right thing to do.” But we gain even more — these efforts allow us to interact with diverse colleagues and members of the community. Working for those in need yields incomparable professional satisfaction, is an excellent training ground and contributes to a more balanced life for us all.