Building for good: ABA construction lawyers give back to their communities
When Dana Jackson bought the Black Bottom House of Prayer in 2015, she planned to not only restore the 90-year-old church for its congregation but to also expand its services to help support the residents of Parramore, a historically African American neighborhood in Orlando, Florida.
Four years later, as the pastor continued her preservation efforts, the church’s entire roof collapsed. After saving the site from demolition and obtaining a historic landmark designation, she connected with a volunteer from Building for Good, a national nonprofit organization that links other nonprofits and charities with skilled construction lawyers.
That volunteer was Claramargaret Groover, of counsel with the Becker law firm in Orlando, who has since helped Jackson navigate insurance claims, design and construction contracts and other immediate legal needs.
“The building is sitting with the roof having caved in, but the pastor is a person with the strongest faith I’ve ever seen and has an irrepressible spirit,” Groover said during a virtual event highlighting Building for Good’s work with the Black Bottom House of Prayer in late October. “She is conducting her worship services and Bible classes literally in the side yard of the church under a temporary tent.”
Groover is one of 172 lawyers across the country volunteering with Building for Good, which was launched in October 2019 by members of the ABA Forum on Construction Law. Their mission is to offer construction lawyers more pro bono opportunities and relieve the financial burden on organizations that need construction law services.
William Hill speaks at the October 2019 launch in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of R. MacPherson/J. Cruz.
“If you want to give back, we’re trying to find ways for people to do that,” says William Hill, a past chair of the Forum on Construction Law and a founder and current chair of Building for Good. “As construction lawyers, we can’t help a homeless person. We can’t help a person who has been a victim of domestic violence. And maybe we can’t help someone who has gone hungry, but we can certainly help organizations who are helping those people.”
Hill proposed the idea for Building for Good in 2015 and helped put together a board of directors that included past and current leaders of the Forum on Construction Law. They made it a requirement that volunteer attorneys in their network be members of the forum.
The Building for Good chair points out that the unique arrangement helps with quality control.
“The forum has been very successful at member retention, and it has a very solid and loyal membership,” says Hill, co-chair of the construction law practice group at Mintz in Boston. “If they’re going to our meetings, we know that those people are good construction lawyers, and we are confident they can service our nonprofit clients.”
In the past year, Building for Good started nine pilot projects in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey. In addition to the Black Bottom House of Prayer, these include the Elizabeth Stone House, which supports survivors of domestic violence and related trauma in Boston; and Family Resource Associates, which serves children and adults with developmental or acquired disabilities in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Kristine Kubes, the immediate past chair of the Forum on Construction Law who serves as Building for Good’s secretary, was already volunteering for a nonprofit in Minneapolis that was added to the organization’s project list. For the past 10 years, she has served as the pro bono construction lawyer for Tandem, a family crisis center, and helped negotiate contracts for renovations and expansions, as well as leases and contracts for property purchases.
The new child care center at Tandem in Minneapolis was one of Building for Good’s first projects. Photo courtesy of Tandem.
“I am honored to help this amazing place on a pro bono basis so that their funds can go to resources for the mothers and children they help every day, rather than legal fees,” says Kubes, the principal of the Kubes Law Office, which works with design and construction professionals.
“I will also say that I love how we have developed Building for Good,” she adds. “We are not only offering our services to support charities around the nation, we are raising awareness about local charities on a national level, we are encouraging philanthropy, and through that, we are helping strengthen communities.”
As Building for Good’s program director, Kristen McDonough helps build relationships between nonprofit organizations and the lawyers and their law firms that can handle pro bono matters for them. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped expand the network into the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia in recent months, and made it her goal to locate additional projects in those areas.
“We have a large pool of volunteer lawyers in each of our states that has signed on to help whenever the time comes,” McDonough says. “It’s actually been much easier recruiting the volunteers than finding the projects, because many organizations don’t know we exist yet. We’re trying to do a lot of outreach to get the word out.”
McDonough adds that Building for Good plans to expand to several more states in 2021 and asks its volunteer lawyers to help identify nonprofits and charities that need pro bono assistance in their own communities.
Building for Good will also continue to offer online information sessions and host several virtual events next year, including its second Racing for Good run/walk fundraiser.
For more information or to get involved, visit building4good.org.