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Law firm, in-house counsel team up for ‘Heroes’

Local lawyers gave free estate planning advice to those in the area who often risk their lives for a similar fee.

Lawyers from Ballard Spahr and Capital One stand in front of a fire truck at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad’s building during Friday’s Wills for Heroes event.

Ballard Spahr LLP and the legal department at Capital One teamed up Friday to give estate planning advice to first responders — emergency medical technicians and firefighters — in the region.

The event was part of the national Wills for Heroes Foundation Inc. program, which provides free legal documents like wills, living wills and powers of attorney to first responders across the country. The program was founded by a law firm in South Carolina after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, the program has expanded to partner with other firms in 10 states, according to the nonprofit’s website.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Tangela Richter, an associate general counsel at McLean, Va.-based Capital One. “The way it’s organized provides opportunities for in-house counsel as well as law firms to work together for the community.”

About 25 people from Ballard Spahr and 25 Capital One employees, most of them lawyers, gathered at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad’s building in Bethesda for the day-long event.

“These are people with families,” Richter said. “We can’t, in an hour, do things that are super-complicated, but simple wills we are able to do in a short time.”

Attorneys and staff met in the morning for a few hours to go over the estate planning services they would provide first responders later in the day. Starting at 1 p.m., groups of three to five attorneys met with first responders for consultations of about an hour and a half.

At the end of each session, a first responder should walk away with a will that has been signed and notarized, said Michael S. Waldron, a partner at Ballard Spahr.

“They have busy schedules, and it’s not always the most comfortable thing to address issues with people just meeting for the first time,” Waldron said. “What we have done is we have enough folks there that they feel very welcome and taken care of.”

The legal group served 40 first responders Friday. The first responders came from Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania and had signed up in advance. Richter said the slots filled up in 48 hours.

Each person was asked to fill out an estate planning questionnaire and bring it to Friday’s session.

This is the first time Ballard Spahr and Capital One partnered on the project, but Ballard Spahr’s offices across the country have participated in more than 100 Wills for Heroes events, Waldron said.

“What’s really unique about the program is that it … leverages both corporate partners and the law firm community,” Waldron said.

The two groups have been planning the event for the last three months, with a push to finalize details in the past six weeks, Richter said. The event is also part of the recent effort by Capital One’s legal department to do more pro bono work.

“I think volunteerism is just part of who we are,” Richter said. “Then add to the fact that we are all lawyers and pro bono is part of being a good lawyer in our minds.”