Legal Departments Of The Year: GE Pro Bono Efforts Help Nonprofits, Indigent And Others
GE lawyers have also donated their time to KIND – Kids in Need of Defense. The organization, whose founders include the actress Angelina Jolie, helps children seeking asylum in the United States from being deported to their home countries, where they may be subject to imprisonment, mutilation and perhaps death.
The importance of pro bono work was stressed upon Denniston early on in his career. Denniston explained that when he was a young lawyer in Boston, he volunteered his time for an organization ran by Esther Lardent, founder and first director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, one of the nation's first organized pro bono programs.
Denniston called Lardent "the most notable pro bono leader in country."
"It was a great experience," Denniston said.
Years later, after Denniston had been at GE for awhile, Lardent honored him with an award from an organization she founded called the Pro Bono Institute. It was in receiving the award in 2010 that Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg praised him as a "pro bono champion."
"That was a thrill, a real thrill," said Denniston. "[Ginsburg's] a very impressive and gracious person."
Denniston's right-hand man when it comes to overseeing pro bono work at GC is Senior Labor and Employment Counsel Mark Nordstrom. He also chairs the Pro Bono Partnership.
"I think Brackett made it clear that this is something he views as a positive attribute of a GE lawyer as not only an ethical obligation but as a way to give back to the community. And you learn from everything you do, including pro bono work," said Nordstrom.
Nordstrom, who is admitted to practice law in New Jersey and New York, but works out of Fairfield, explained that previously GE house counsel not admitted in Connecticut couldn't do any pro bono work that involved practicing law. That changed on January 1 of this year, when the state altered its rules to allow in-house lawyers not licensed in Connecticut to perform pro bono work under the direction of a legal services organization or the direct supervision of another attorney admitted in Connecticut.
"Before that, it had to be the softer pro bono work," said Nordstrom.