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A Calling, a Promise, and Rule 6.1: Three Remarkable Women and Corporate Commitment to Pro Bono and Service

Steven P. Caltrider and Tamra A. P. Ross

©2018. Published in Landslide, Vol. 10, No. 4, March/April 2018, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

The promise of Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly) is to “unite caring with discovery to make life better for people around the world.”1 This promise coupled with Rule 6.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct created the foundational justification for Lilly’s pro bono programs. But it is the leadership and calling of many women in its intellectual property (IP) law group to “be inclusive,” “be relevant,” and “be a catalyst” that has helped power the company’s tremendous success in corporate social responsibility. Charri Vorndran-Jones, Assistant General Patent Counsel; Tonya Combs, Senior Director and Assistant General Patent Counsel; and Elizabeth Dingess-Hammond, Assistant General Patent Counsel are three Lilly champions who lead the company in its pro bono work.

Wills for Heroes

Each September, more than 24,000 Lilly employees in 65 countries take part in the Lilly Global Day of Service. Lilly has a long-standing history of encouraging employees to participate in giving back to the communities where they live and work. Charri Vorndran-Jones sought to merge Lilly’s Global Day of Service with Lilly’s pro bono programs. She was the catalyst for bringing Wills for Heroes to Lilly and the state of Indiana.

Wills for Heroes was created by Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP shortly after September 11, 2001, following a realization that many of the first responders who died in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City had no wills in place.2 Charri was responsible for building the program for Lilly. Nelson Mullins and the Indianapolis office of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP helped get the forms together to produce the wills according to Indiana state law, and the Lilly Foundation agreed to help launch the program as a nonprofit in coordination with the Wills for Heroes Foundation.

“Our team of volunteers prepares wills and health directives, at no cost, for first responders serving in the Indianapolis area,” says Charri. “This includes firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and their families. It is just a small token of appreciation to those who protect us.”

To identify participants for each event, Lilly finds first responders in its neighborhood and surrounding communities. Those who elect to participate are scheduled in advance for their consultation and estate planning appointment. They are welcomed to Lilly headquarters where trained teams of volunteer attorneys, information technology specialists, notaries, and paralegals streamline the consultation, preparation, and execution of basic estate documents. The program has been so successful that it has been replicated with veterans and low-income patients in partnership with the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. “When we first hosted a session, participants were skeptical, and thought we would send them a bill. They were really relieved in the end,” Charri notes. “Most of the first responders would not have had a will but for this program. We have also helped with guardianship, and we have assisted single parents who had no provisions for their children.”

These efforts are also good opportunities to promote inclusion, teamwork, and comradery throughout Lilly’s law division. “As patent attorneys, we do not see the result of our patent work until decades later when a compound discovered in research is fully developed into a medicine. The Wills for Heroes programs delivers same-day consult and legal documents.

National Veterans Legal Services Program

Lilly’s founder, Colonel Eli Lilly, was a veteran of the Civil War, a heritage that has long helped to fuel the company’s calling to serve veterans. Lilly’s law division employees also provide legal representation via the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP). Through NVLSP, Lilly attorneys give hope to veterans whose disability claims are denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Since 1980, NVLSP has helped veterans obtain over $1 billion in disability benefits to which they are entitled because of disabilities resulting from military service.

For the past two years, Lilly’s volunteers have partnered with Covington & Burling LLP attorneys to draft appellate brief arguments. NVLSP serves as gatekeeper and assigns the cases to volunteers. To date every appeal where Lilly and Covington & Burling have participated has resulted in a positive outcome for the veteran. Tonya Combs has been Lilly’s leader and champion for this program, and she has drafted arguments for multiple NVLSP cases.

Here the relationship with the client is mostly electronic: reviewing medical files and evolving legal theories to provide a veteran with a chance to get medical benefits. However, the impact and experience is intensely personal. Tonya notes, “You become their champion to navigate a legal system that can be confusing and often overwhelming.” In a recent case, the service the veteran provided to the country was in the 1960s and the veteran had been trying to secure disability benefits for several years—facing obstacle after obstacle. The case began in May 2016, and Tonya learned in January 2017 that the appeal was successful, and the veteran remains eligible for benefits.

“The work is different from pharmaceutical patent law where we make a difference to a number of patients whom we may never meet,” says Tonya. “With each NVLSP case, we have a chance to be relevant and make a difference for a specific individual.”

The collaboration with Covington & Burling and NVLSP enables Lilly volunteers like Tonya to be involved in pro bono work at a pace and schedule that can be accommodated amid other responsibilities. The company’s pro bono committee is very good at providing a menu of pro bono work options.

Street Law Inc.

Passion and purpose energize the pro bono choices of Elizabeth Dingess-Hammond. She and dozens of her colleagues serve in the capacity of classroom and workshop instructors, and student mentors, for Street Law’s Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program—a global nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with more than 40 years of experience developing classroom and community programs that educate young people about law and government. Lilly and its partner law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP have been teaching this content to high school students in the Indianapolis Public Schools system since 2010.

Elizabeth is driven by the opportunity to invest in and encourage students, in particular young women, to pursue careers that are legal or technical. She says, “It can be difficult for women in the fields of law and science, but it’s getting better. I want to help carry the torch and share a message that young women can accomplish what they set out to do and be as successful as they want to be.” Following weeks of classroom instruction, teachers and students visit Lilly headquarters for development workshops and networking with corporate and law firm professionals. Students put critical thinking skills to use performing the roles of plaintiff’s attorney, defense attorney, mediator, and investigator, and then participate in debates to resolve hypothetical disputes on contracts, copyrights, and human resources law.

“My day job is highly technical. Chemistry. Biological data. Synthesizing all that together with patent law. Advising the business.” Elizabeth says, “With Street Law, I appreciate that I can interact with students on a wholly different level, making connections, helping them understand. “There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing their faces when they get something and watching them improve how they frame their opinions,” Elizabeth says. “We let students know that they matter to us and we are here to support them beyond the high school classroom as they are finding their path in life.”

Connecting Hearts Abroad

Since 2011 through the Connecting Hearts Abroad program, more than 1,000 Lilly employees have served as health volunteers and caregivers on community projects across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And again, Lilly IP lawyers have contributed. Charri traveled to an impoverished community in Yaroslavl, Russia, where she helped at a school, taught children, and made improvements to their playground. Her global service experience broadened her thoughts and observations about the complex challenges associated with improving health and health care in these difficult environments. “I came back from Yaroslavl to my corporate office in Indianapolis with a humbled perspective, and my mind and heart reinspired to help the company improve global health.”

Making a Difference

Today, nearly all of Lilly’s lawyers are actively engaged in a Lilly-sponsored pro bono program, The calling of the women in its IP law group to be inclusive, relevant, serve as catalysts, and make a difference—in combination with Lilly’s corporate culture of public service and executive support—is what has made all the difference. The stories of these extraordinary women in IP in leading pro bono programs can inspire others to establish corporate in-house pro bono publico programs. It is a calling in the IP profession, but it is also good business. n

Practical Tips for Establishing a Successful Pro Bono Program

In addition to engaging the initiative and passion of the company’s own employees, the women in Lilly’s IP group offer the following practical tips to those who want to establish successful pro bono programs—particularly in-house—even with limited resources and infrastructure:

Bias for Action

Establish a pro bono committee of not just leaders, but also “doers.” The committee needs to take initiative and lead by example. “Pro bono or any service program is personal,” reflects Tonya Combs. “People need to understand they have the skills to contribute. Leading by example demonstrates this. It also creates enthusiasm. People want to share in the delight of helping others.”

Create a Menu of Choices

Over time, establish a variety of types of pro bono experiences, each having a primary and a secondary champion. Everyone is called to service in different ways. As Charri Vorndran-Jones notes, “When I first joined the company, our pro bono programs were largely ad hoc and limited to family law. While this is clearly a critical need, many of the cases are emotionally draining and not for everyone.” Expanding the opportunities significantly increased attorney and employee engagement.

Replicate, Replicate, and Replicate

There are many pro bono experiences that are already showing promise, locally and nationally. Join local programs or partner with programs in other states. Finding a law firm with which to partner is helpful, because in-house programs generally lack the infrastructure and may be less experienced in handling professional liability concerns. The engagement of each of Lilly’s partner firms—Faegre Baker Daniels, Nelson Mullins, and Covington & Burling—has been critical to success.


The culture of pro bono service does not happen by serendipity. It requires executive support and recognition. Outstanding pro bono effort should be celebrated. As Elizabeth Dingess-Hammond notes, “The excitement is contagious. People see management support and perhaps more importantly the sense of professional enrichment and satisfaction of helping others, and want to be part of it. People want to make a difference. Our job as leaders is to show the way.”


1. Eli Lilly and Company is a research-based pharmaceutical company whose mission is to make medicines that help people live longer, healthier, more active lives.

2. The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) has supported Wills for Heroes as a national public service program since 2007.

Steven P. Caltrider

Steven P. Caltrider serves as vice president, deputy general patent counsel at Eli Lilly and Company.

Tamra A. P. Ross

Tamra A. P. Ross serves as director of legal operations at Eli Lilly and Company.