2017 – Gary Wachtel

Gary Wachtel epitomizes the principle of leadership by example. In 2012, as a senior director in the law department at Discover Financial Services, Gary brought leadership and a strong personal commitment that were instrumental in building from what would become an award-winning pro bono program that he now chairs. Over the past two years, more than 90% of Discover’s legal team has engaged in various volunteer and pro bono activities and contributed almost 1,500 hours of pro bono service.

As the saying goes, Gary has talked the talk and walked the walk in building the pro bono program there, helping countless people in need in the process. As a finance lawyer who heads the law department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Group, Gary has never shied away from taking on pro bono matters in new areas of the law where there is a need in the community. His willingness to regularly go beyond his comfort zone to take on new pro bono projects encourages his colleagues to branch out as well. This shows in the wide variety of pro bono matters Gary and the Discover legal team are working on at any given moment.

Two examples stand out in particular among the many Discover pro bono projects today. Thanks to Gary’s personal dedication and commitment, Discover helped establish and staff a domestic violence help desk at the Rolling Meadows courthouse and regularly staffs an LAF clinic in Woodlawn that is more than an hour from Discover’s offices.

Gary’s leadership helps ensure that there are opportunities for every member of the Discover legal team to participate in pro bono, from paralegals and law clerks to attorneys. Gary’s willingness to always embrace pro bono work and his inspirational efforts to get the other members of his team involved make him a worthy recipient of this year’s Exelon Award.