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March 23, 2011 8:09 PM

Bingham, Touched for the Very First Time...by Madonna

Posted by Brian Baxter

Bingham McCutchen has won a role representing Raising Malawi, a charity founded by Madonna in 2006 to bring an end to poverty and other hardships endured by the African nation's estimated 2 million orphans.

David Butler, a litigation partner in Bingham's Washington, D.C., office, says the firm got the work representing the charity after a restructuring of the nonprofit commenced earlier this year. Madonna, who has an adopted child from Malawi, decided to change the organization's focus and direction in order to increase its effectiveness.

As part of that effort, Raising Malawi has recently partnered with the Global Philanthropy Group (GPG), a business that works with high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, and governments on philanthropic initiatives. The New York Times profiled GPG's cofounder and partner Trevor Neilson last year for his work with high-profile celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, Bono, and Ashton Kutcher.

Butler says that he and Bingham have had a relationship with GPG for several years. GPG recommended that Raising Malawi bring in new accounting personnel and legal advisers as part of the restructuring process. While Butler doesn't know the specifics of GPG's recommendations, he suspects that his work with the group was one factor that led the charity to hire Bingham. The firm will handle Raising Malawi's corporate, tax, IP, and employment work and will provide day-to-day legal advice regarding the nonprofit's operations.

"Bingham's advice has been invaluable as we work to shift both the leadership and strategy of Raising Malawi in an effort to serve more children," Neilson said in a statement.

Butler joined Bingham from Washington, D.C.-based Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman in February 2006 after the two firms merged. His practice, he says, has always consisted of representing nonprofit organizations, both professionally and through volunteer work.

"I've been involved in advising various philanthropic entities for a while, and it's clear to me that my initial entrée to being considered by [Raising Malawi] is due to our relationship with [GPG]," Butler says.

While the assignment for Raising Malawi is not pro bono, Butler says he does represent some of his nonprofit clients on such a basis. He declined to name those clients, but notes that Bingham has a significant charitable advisory practice, which includes a large number of individuals and organizations involved in philanthropic activities.

"I think the fact that this is an established area of our firm's practice was attractive to Raising Malawi," Butler says. "We have people from a number of different disciplines within the firm who concentrate on this type of representation, which sets us apart from a lot of other fairly large firms."

Assisting Butler in advising Raising Malawi are Bingham corporate partner David Johanson and tax counsel Larysa Rosemann. The charity, which worked with Madonna on a 2008 documentary film about children in Malawi, also considers DLA Piper as one of its partners.

Butler says he's never been to Malawi, nor has he met Madonna, though he's hoping that will change someday.

"It wouldn't be bad to say hello," he says.

 

UPDATE, 3/24/11, 7:30 p.m.: The New York Times reports on the upheaval within Raising Malawi that led Madonna to replace the charity's board of directors and restructure its operations.

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