We encourage involvement and leadership in the communities in which we live
Varnum’s commitment to the community includes significant financial contributions to a variety of organizations, from arts, education and health care agencies to social service, community and economic development endeavors. Our Contributions Committee meets monthly to review and evaluate requests.
We are more than just lawyers; Varnum attorneys are leaders in the communities in which we live and work. Our attorneys serve many community organizations, including the following:
Buchanan Elementary School
Varnum’s Grand Rapids office initially began a holiday-sharing relationship with Buchanan Elementary School in 1989. Quickly realizing that the needs of Buchanan families are ongoing, the firmwide Seasons for Giving program was developed. The program provides for a yearlong commitment to the school and its students and families through a variety of seasonal activities:
- February – Proceeds from a chili cook-off go to purchase books for March reading month.
- March – Varnum volunteers visit the school and read to students during reading month. Books are also donated to each classroom.
- April – At conference time, Varnum provides a catered meal for teachers before they meet with parents and students.
- May – An appreciation luncheon is hosted by Varnum at the school to thank teachers and staff for all they do for the students throughout the year.
- June – Varnum staff and summer associates scoop, sprinkle and top ice cream for students and teachers at the annual celebration on the last day of school.
- August/September – Teachers provide a class- and grade-specific wish list of school supplies that is fulfilled by Varnum volunteer shoppers. The Seasons for Giving program funds the purchase of these supplies. At Varnum, Buchanan student-of-the-month T-shirts are sold to members of the firm who sign the shirts for presentation as student rewards throughout the year.
- November/December – Every student at Buchanan and SECOM receives a holiday gift, and Santa (and many of his elves) visits to sing songs, read stories, share smiles and decorate cookies. Family bags filled with everyday essential toiletry items are given to parents and caretakers for home use. In addition, since 2006, a fourth-grade art student has created and designed the Varnum holiday card that is sent to over 10,000 recipients.
Varnum’s relationship with Buchanan Elementary is significant and is just one of many ways Varnum is honored to be involved in the communities in which we live and work.
Pro Bono Work
An important part of our overall responsibility as attorneys is to provide free legal services to those in need. Varnum undertakes this duty by securing its pro bono files through referrals from the Pro Bono Program of Western Michigan (a program established in 1982 by the Grand Rapids Bar Association and Legal Aid of Western Michigan), the Mel Trotter Ministries Legal Clinic and other entities that refer matters for veterans to us.
Varnum participates in these programs by providing legal services to individuals who are qualified to receive pro bono services. Although Varnum provides free legal services to other individuals and on behalf of various nonprofit agencies, we take pro bono credit only for files from Legal Aid of Western Michigan and the Mel Trotter Ministries Legal Clinic, and for assisting veterans. 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 from the referring entity.
Our commitment to pro bono representation begins with our summer associates, who are offered the opportunity to handle at least one referral case during their clerkships, a unique and positive aspect of our summer program, which continues with our associate level attorneys. Our partners also devote a significant amount of time to the program through handling pro bono files and supervising younger attorneys and summer clerks. Gary Mouw, litigation partner, is our pro bono coordinator.
In 2021, the firm provided 1231 hours in pro bono services on 62 files that met these criteria. The $470,699 in fees combined with a $50,000 cash contribution to the Access to Justice Fund brought Varnum’s total contribution to $520,699.
Varnum is recognized by the State Bar of Michigan for its pro bono contributions. 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 (30 hours or $500 per attorney in financial donations).
Varnum is proud of its pro bono commitment. The support and participation by attorneys throughout the firm makes it clear that pro bono representation is part of the fabric of our firm.