MassMutual's Varon creates innovative corporate counsel pro bono program

Issue January 2010 By Evin Luongo

Dorothy Varon, assistant vice president of and counsel to the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company in Springfield, has devoted countless hours of her time to the Western Division of the Housing Court in Springfield and has helped establish an innovative corporate counsel pro bono program.

Varon, while in private practice, helped form a pro bono program through the Women's Bar Association about five years ago that provides legal services to indigent tenants and landlords with cases in the housing court. Her ultimate goal is simply "to help people remain in their homes," Varon said.

When she began working for MassMutual about three years ago, it was Varon's hope that she could continue working in the program. With the approval of MassMutual's General Counsel Mark D. Roellig, Varon organized a group of the company's attorneys and paralegals to participate in the pro bono program.

"Dorothy's work in developing the pro bono program at MassMutual has been tremendously helpful to our court. Dorothy has recruited an impressive number of MassMutual attorneys to participate in our Lawyer for a Day Program," said the Hon. Dina E. Fein, first justice of Western Housing Court in Springfield.

"It's particularly exciting to see the value of pro bono work recognized in the corporate context, as it opens up an untapped reservoir of attorneys, and I know from my discussions with the MassMutual volunteers that they find the work deeply rewarding," Fein said. "Now that Dorothy has blazed the trail, my hope is that other corporate counsel will adopt this best practice and incorporate pro bono work into their offices. We are enormously grateful for Dorothy's contribution to the legal profession."

The pro bono program is first-come, first-served, and applicants are initially screened in order to determine whether they are income eligible. While some pro bono work lasts for only a day, other cases may last for a longer period of time.

Although there is a limit on the amount of company time attorneys and paralegals can spend doing their pro bono work, many - including Varon - dedicate personal time to working on their pro bono cases.

"I do a lot of work on my own," Varon said. "I also try to get other people interested, with as many attorneys and paralegals from the department participating as possible."

In addition to her pro bono work and position at MassMutual, Varon currently serves on the Standing Committee of the Supreme Judicial Court for Pro Bono Activities. She also currently serves as a commissioner on the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Before joining MassMutual, Varon was in private practice in Springfield, worked as an assistant attorney general, and as a judicial law clerk for the Hon. Elizabeth A. Porada (ret.) of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.