Why did you choose to lead S&C’s pro bono efforts?
Pro bono work has always been very important to me. As an associate, my favorite case was one of my pro bono matters. I thought leading S&C's pro bono practice would be an incredible opportunity to represent pro bono clients on a full-time basis and actively mentor younger lawyers
Tell us about your transition into your new role.
I've worked on pro bono cases since law school and then as a summer associate at S&C and throughout my years as a litigation associate. I took on a different pro bono matter almost every year. Within months of starting as an associate, I worked on a case with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund addressing indigent defense funding in Mississippi. Since that time, I've litigated prisoners' rights and immigration cases and continue to represent a Guantánamo detainee. I also represented an indigent mother for whom our team obtained reinstatement of her benefits. Since taking this role, I've had even more opportunities to learn about different types of work that exist. I am Counsel to The New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, with which S&C partner Bob Giuffra and others at the Firm have been incredibly involved.
A significant amount of our pro bono opportunities have a litigation component. There are skill sets that come up repeatedly on litigation matters, whether they're for paying clients or pro bono clients, like legal research, legal writing, taking a deposition or examining a witness. These skill sets are very helpful in this role. I have had to learn and grow a little bit in the transactional area. I've been to trainings and have partnered with others to figure out how to continue to bring the Firm's lawyers great pro bono transactional work.
Also in this role, I supervise younger lawyers who are doing their first witness prep or making their first appellate argument. And that's a thrill.
What are some of the more challenging and/or rewarding aspects of your new role?
A challenge and a benefit of doing so much pro bono work is that you become more involved in your clients' lives and struggles. The degree to which a client is emotionally invested in his or her case hits home when you do pro bono work for an individual client.
What advice would you give to associates who would like to become more involved in pro bono work?
I would encourage lawyers to think about what is important to them and pursue those issues in their pro bono work. I think the work is even more meaningful if you feel passionate about the social justice issue you're addressing. Occasionally it is a topic that resonates with one's personal history.There are tremendous opportunities to help people and to gain responsibility on these matters, even at a junior level. There is a need for pro bono assistance on any variety of topics; it's not as if you have to work on only one area of the law in order to have opportunities to develop your legal skills while advancing social justice initiatives. For example, it is possible to take on a pro bono case on behalf of the Kings County District Attorney's Office to get experience doing appellate work on a criminal law matter. Within a matter of months, the lawyer is making an appellate argument in court. As an associate, my first closing argument was on a pro bono matter. I think the balance that pro bono work provides to Firm lawyers is really incredible. Plus, it feels really good to be helping people in need.