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Pro Bono Work
An important part of our overall responsibility as a leader in the community is to provide free legal services to those in need. Varnum's exclusive vehicles for providing pro bono legal services are active participation in the Pro Bono Program of Western Michigan, a program established in 1982 by the Grand Rapids Bar Association and Legal Aid of Western Michigan, and through the Mel Trotter Ministries Legal Clinic.
Varnum participates in these programs by providing legal services to individuals who are qualified to receive pro bono services by the Pro Bono Program of Western Michigan. Although Varnum provides free legal services to individuals and on behalf of various non-profit agencies, we take pro bono credit only for files from Legal Aid of Western Michigan and the Mel Trotter Ministries Legal Clinic, assisting veterans and Kenyan refugees. We treat time spent on these cases in the same manner as billable client time. In addition, Varnum provides a financial contribution that far exceeds the Voluntary Standard established by the State Bar of Michigan. Varnum also pays all costs associated with each representation, and waives reimbursement for these expenses.
Our commitment to the Pro Bono Program begins with our summer associates, who are offered the opportunity to handle at least one referral case during their clerkship, a unique and positive aspect of our summer program, and continues with our associate level attorneys. Our partners also devote a significant amount of time to the program through supervising younger attorneys and summer clerks as well as through handling their own cases. Mark Allard, litigation partner, is our pro bono coordinator.
In 2016, the firm provided 1,463 hours in pro bono services on 57 files that meet these criteria. The $477,554 in fees and $13,035 in waived costs, combined with a $35,000 cash contribution to the Access to Justice Fund, brought Varnum’s total contribution to $525,589.
Varnum is recognized by the State Bar of Michigan for its contribution to pro bono work. The firm is part of the State Bar's "Circle of Excellence" at the Leadership level, reserved for law firms with 100 percent aggregate contributions at the Pro Bono Voluntary Standard level of 30 hours or $500 per attorney average in financial donations. Varnum's pro bono contribution is well above that figure.