Duncan Johnson, a business law partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, was recently presented with the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Dorothy Lohmann Community Service Award in recognition of his work with Crossroads Rhode Island, a nonprofit that helps the homeless secure stable homes.
For more than 20 years, Johnson has assisted Crossroads with property acquisitions and renovations, establishing the Harold Lewis House, a permanent home for formerly homeless elders, and negotiating the acceptance of two multifamily homes donated to Crossroads.
Johnson reflects on his involvement with the agency and how its causes have resonated with his own interests.
PBN: How did you get involved with Crossroads Rhode Island?
JOHNSON: Crossroads Rhode Island started as a project to help returning servicemen and veterans who were transitioning to the civilian world. The organization expanded its mission to assist homeless people. Those are important causes, and I became involved in the 1990s. As we are reminded by veterans returning from combat in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, members of our armed services can face profound challenges in adjusting to civilian life. Likewise, we face a daunting challenge in helping homeless people achieve the transition to self-sufficiency. Crossroads Rhode Island plays a significant role in addressing those challenges. It is a pleasure to play a small role in the organization’s success.
PBN: What experiences/skills have you found to be most helpful when negotiating acquisitions?
JOHNSON: It is clear that attorneys who work in the tax-exempt area are seeing the level of their work rise rapidly. This is due to a variety of special reasons, not the least of which is the current complexity for the attorneys who work in this area and must prepare more documents than before.
I have found that a corporate law background provides a strong basis for successfully handling a tax-exempt transaction matter. Over the years, we have handled a reasonable volume of tax-exempt business acquisition transactions. Thus, training younger lawyers in corporation law provides skills in other areas of the law as well.
PBN: In what ways have you benefited personally and professionally from your volunteer services?
JOHNSON: Lawyers are called to serve the communities in which they practice. The imperative to perform pro bono work for organizations like Crossroads Rhode Island is deeply embedded in the lawyer’s DNA. It is also a priority at my law firm, Edwards Wildman. Therefore, helping Crossroads Rhode Island helps fulfill our professional obligation as members of the bar. Lawyers find it immensely rewarding to perform such work, and it serves as a timely reminder of the special duties of our profession. We must never become too busy to forget our communities and those in need. •