Chief among the characteristics of highly successful people are a fierce work ethic and the ability to make success look easy. A good example is Valerie Jarrett, Chief Executive Officer of the Barack Obama Foundation, who spoke at Proskauer virtually last week as part of the firm’s A Path Forward lecture series and Collaborate for Change program. The presentation was moderated by Daryn Grossman, Proskauer’s Managing Partner, and interspersed with personal stories from members of the Proskauer community.

Jarrett discussed her background, including the influence of her parents who told her if she set goals and worked hard, she could accomplish anything. Ironically, it was when Jarrett actually reached the pinnacle of success, as the longest-serving Senior Advisor in White House history, that her parents acknowledged that at the time they told her those encouraging words, they did not in fact believe them in light of their own experience. Indeed, Jarrett’s father, an accomplished physician, took a job overseas before she was born because of the discrimination he faced as a Black doctor in the United States.

Jarrett emphasized the importance for all of us to engage in difficult conversations about race, explaining that you, “can’t ignore the past if you expect to have a path forward.” The murder of George Floyd shocked the nation but, in reality, there was nothing new about what occurred in the gruesome video that simply laid bare the longstanding racial injustice in this country.  According to Jarrett, the question remains whether we will “rise to the moment” and recognize that although we have made substantial progress on racial and social justice, we still have a long way to go.

Those words resonate deeply as they relate to pro bono. Indeed, almost all of our pro bono work advances racial justice because of how deeply entrenched racial disparities remain in American institutions and society. We see this in education, housing, incarceration rates, and the wealth gap. We see this in our system of justice, where throughout the country certain courts like the family, housing, and criminal courts, which disproportionately serve people of color, are disproportionately under-resourced. And we see this in voting rights where throughout our history, up to and including the present day, there have been efforts to exclude people of color from exercising their most fundamental right in a democracy.

In sum, Jarrett reinforced the necessity to not only engage in discussion but to take action. This means fostering inclusive and diverse workplaces and no longer tolerating a two-tiered society or a second class system of justice for anyone.

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.