McKenna Long & Aldridge

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Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
80
McKenna Long (107)
49.3
44.9
53.7

 

The nonprofit Points of Light Institute (POLI), which organizes and promotes community volunteering across the country, used to raise about $15,000 every year by hiring an independent contractor to auction off discounted travel packages on eBay. But in June 2008, after several customers reported that the contractor had not delivered the The Am Law Pro Bono 100travel vouchers they had bought, the operation collapsed, throwing the travel plans of over 1,200 customers into disarray. An internal investigation by POLI's longtime pro bono counsel McKenna Long & Aldridge—led by litigation partners Shari Klevens and James Washburn—found that the contractor had lost money and begun selling trips below their actual cost in order to generate cash to cover up the losses. The contractor had also used money from the auctions to cover personal expenses and unauthorized purchases. At POLI's urging, the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., has begun its own investigation of the contractor.

POLI promised to make good on the customers' trips, issuing nearly $7 million in refunds, but the nonprofit itself took a blow. "The people within the organization were incredibly overwhelmed with maintaining the integrity and the future of the organization," says Klevens. "There were limited resources."

Klevens drafted a report on the contractor's actions that was turned over to the U.S. attorney's office. She also advised the institute's leadership on how to prevent similar damage in the future. Washburn, meanwhile, coordinated efforts to manage the crisis and minimize its liability, counseling the nonprofit on dealing with customers and its insurers. Both are advising POLI in lawsuits from disgruntled customers who have received refunds, but claim they should be given checks equivalent to the full value of their purchased trips, rather than the discounted package price. In one suit, first filed last fall in an Iowa City magistrate court, the plaintiff was limited to recovery of what he had paid; the other two suits, pending in Florida's Broward and Miami-Dade counties, are in discovery.

"[The fraud] was a semicatastrophic event for them," Klevens says of her client. "We want to make sure we can help an organization like Points of Light continue working in the way it's supposed to."

—Vivian Yee | July 1, 2009

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