January 2018 Volunteer of the Month: Mary Kenny


American veterans face significant struggles after serving our country and returning home.  Mary Kenny thinks that for many veterans these struggles cannot be overcome without the assistance of the courts, organizations like VLJ, and volunteers like her team at BASF Corporation.

Mary is Senior Counsel in the legal department of BASF, the North American affiliate of BASF SE, the world’s largest chemical company.  She supports one of the business units at BASF, doing transactional work for her group. In addition to her role as a business attorney, she also acts as BASF’s pro bono coordinator.

Mary received her undergraduate degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and her J.D. from Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. She has worked at BASF for almost four years and prior to joining BASF, Mary was at K&L Gates.

Last year, in partnership with BASF and Panasonic Corporation of North America, VLJ launched the Veterans Legal Wellness Clinic at the Veterans Hospital in East Orange, NJ. At the clinic, teams of attorneys and staff from the corporations and their partnering law firms conduct holistic interviews with veterans to identify their legal issues and develop a plan for help. The attorneys prioritize the legal issues, provide advice or limited service and make referrals.

Much of Mary’s time as pro bono coordinator is devoted to the Veterans Legal Wellness Clinic. “I tend to be drawn to the clinics that VLJ puts together,” she says. “I am so impressed with how seamlessly they run and how you can actually get work product done during those three hours of clinic time. You really feel like you’re moving the ball forward for the clients.” Mary has participated in other VLJ clinics as well, including VLJ’s driver’s license restoration program.

 “It’s wonderful to work with Mary,” says Cathy Keenan, VLJ’s Executive Director. “She is extremely dedicated to this work, and her contagious enthusiasm brings others on board.”

Mary knows that transactional attorneys may feel some apprehension in getting involved in areas outside their expertise. “I have participated in other pro bono activities and felt like a deer in headlights,” she says. “It has been a totally different experience with VLJ’s clinics – once people come and see it, they get addicted to participating. VLJ’s staff is so supportive and the training materials really prepare you sufficiently so you can navigate through high-level issues.”

Mary recalls a client she helped at a clinic, whose case showed her the significant obstacles that lie in clients’ paths. “He had been in prison and a halfway house, and he came in with a stack of papers – certifications he had received on things such as knitting and karate; he was clearly dedicated to self-improvement and he was incredibly organized. But his surcharges with the Motor Vehicle Commission were astronomical. I just couldn’t help but think that there is just no shot for people who find themselves in these situations. They can do whatever they can to make themselves better and improve their lives, but if they are released from prison with $20,000 in surcharges, they have no chance without the courts’, VLJ’s, and our pro bono assistance,” she says. “We have to help them.”

Because Mary is such a giver and a pro bono leader in our community, VLJ is excited to recognize her as our volunteer of the month.