Today we finish our interview with Nicole (Nici) Eichberger who recently joined the ABA Standing Committee for Pro Bono and Public Service. Mrs. Eichberger is a senior Associate in the Employee Benefits, Executive Compensation & ERISA Litigation Group and Pro Bono Co-Coordinator in the New Orleans office of Proskauer Rose, LLP. She shares with us her experience working in a large law firm practice while prioritizing a commitment to pro bono.
Many pro bono managers at large firms work solely on pro bono issues for the firm. Tell us a bit about how your position is structured?
I currently serve as the New Orleans office co-coordinator along with another lawyer, Associate Kara Lincoln. Kara and I both sit on the Pro Bono Committee for the firm, as well as lead the charge to ensure that there are pro bono efforts in the New Orleans office. Each office coordinator tries to bring in and maintain programs that attract and ensure involvement from the lawyers, paralegals and staff of their respective offices.
In addition, we assist the Pro Bono Committee in identifying, maintaining and staffing pro bono projects that can span multiple offices. One example is U.S. District Court Judge Jay Zainey’s HELP program. Although the HELP program started off locally in Louisiana, Judge Zainey helped me identify ways to expand the program nationally. We started in New York, and our office there was wonderful in helping us expand the program nationally. We were able to help with expansion of the HELP program in the Los Angeles area, as well.
Lawyers in this office handle a myriad of pro bono cases. It often happens that our senior level lawyers will work with attorneys across different practice areas and specialties to draft amicus briefs. Proskauer lawyers also participate in Election Protection efforts throughout the country. In this most recent election, almost every U.S. office participated in Election Protection. These are all examples of how our pro bono policy is not just about pro bono within each Proskauer office but how it fulfills Proskauer’s “One Firm” goal, through general practice and pro bono efforts.
How have you found balancing full employment law practice with managing the pro bono project in your office?
My ability to manage it comes from my personal commitment, but I will say that one of the things I like about Proskauer is that the commitment they make is really amazing. Proskauer allows its lawyers to count a significant number of pro bono hours as billable. I think that has encouraged participation. Just like any firm that tracks billable hours generally, as the office co-coordinator I also receive monthly reports that show how the pro bono hours are tracking and how the pro bono participation in the New Orleans office compares to other offices. Proskauer really stands behind its pro bono policy through action and strong policy in support of the work. The firm tries to keep its definition of pro bono in line with ABA model rule 6.1 and includes pro bono work as part of the review process so it really is a commitment that truly is supported by the firm.
Not every lawyer has such a strong commitment to pro bono. What sparked your interest?
Having come from a long line of educators, I am the first lawyer in my family. I have always been surrounded by very civic people who give back for little reward. I always feel as a lawyer you are given privileged information that not everyone has access to. When that happens, there is a duty to give back and to share that knowledge in a way that benefits others.