Michael Helmer (Short Hills) has focused and developed his pro bono work around veterans. "I started working with veterans at our US Department of Veterans Affairs legal clinic in Lyons, New Jersey that we run with our corporate client, Verizon. Rich Gruenberger (New York) got me involved with disabled veteran entrepreneurs through Syracuse University’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV). And I just started my first Project Discharge Upgrade case," said Mike. "Focusing on veterans is helpful and allows me to increase my subject matter knowledge. Over time I have learned their lingo, their set of experiences, their service benefits and what they went through. This helps me be a more effective advocate for them."
Mike knows that his pro bono work helping veterans, many of whom are homeless, jobless or fighting some type of legal battle, helps them at the most fundamental levels. Whether he is expunging a record or securing a driver’s license, which will help obtain employment; or assisting in a custody battle, marriage dissolution or consumer legal issue, his work helps veterans move on with their lives to better support themselves and their families.
In a similar way, Mike’s work helping disabled veteran entrepreneurs create businesses and new ventures is where his business law advice is crucial. These veterans have served for many years and are working toward the next level to help others in their community or around the world.
"We have the team, infrastructure and support to take on pro bono matters that we feel most passionate about. The result is that, as big law lawyers, we become humanized and can have an extremely positive impact in someone’s life when they may not even know that an option exists."
Q: What pro bono experience has been most meaningful to you and why?
A: Working at the legal clinic every other month has been an incredible experience. We have helped people who need it the most and we see the tangible results of our efforts. We are currently assisting a veteran with a credit counseling scam issue. We are working to get his money back and report the bad actors. His family is in a difficult situation given unexpected medical bills and employment issues and it’s heartening to know that, through the law, we are helping make a tough situation a little better.
Q: What skills have you learned from your pro bono work that have been invaluable in your professional development?
A: Combining my corporate legal knowledge with the EBV course has been most helpful. Working on other types of pro bono work allows me to learn new areas of the law I wouldn’t typically deal with, which forces me to refine my soft skills. The EBV work takes me back to the beginning and the fundamentals of business law. Helping someone in the early stage of their business with the right formation, financing, organizational structure, business plan and opportunities is a good reminder of the law basics.
Q: How is pro bono important to our firm's culture and values?
A: We are incredibly fortunate to have opportunities to reconnect with the essence of the law and how it affects the daily lives of people in need. We have the team, infrastructure and support to take on pro bono matters that we feel most passionate about. The result is that, as big law lawyers, we become humanized and can have an extremely positive impact in someone’s life when they may not even know that an option exists. The culture and values of our firm make this possible on a daily basis.