The entire point of a career in law is helping people. Lawyers are probably one of the least trusted professions on the planet — and that’s because the highest profile lawyers are usually the least trustworthy people alive. But that’s not true of everyone else. In general, lawyers are just trying to do what they think is right for the greater good. Keeping the communities we serve in one piece is what it’s all about. And that’s one reason why pro bono work is so important.
Law associate Sonja Sahlsten said that every pro bono case can expand personal horizons and help with bigger cases she knows less about: “Through my pro bono work, I have learned the nuances of sentencing law. My first foray was into federal sentencing through my work on a clemency case. More recently, I have focused on juvenile resentencing cases under DC’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, which provides an opportunity for a sentence reduction for people who committed their crimes as juveniles, have served more than 15 years, and do not pose a danger to the community.”
And it’s about more than just learning.
Fellow associate Pejmon Pashai had a different take. It’s more about becoming more comfortable: “At first, I was apprehensive about stepping outside of my legal ‘comfort zone’ and taking point on a case that could drastically affect my client’s quality of life. Being the primary problem solver in a case is not my typical role as a junior associate. But I knew that my client was counting on me and that I had to deliver, which meant taking the frantic phone calls on a Sunday night when my client’s laundry room nearly caught fire or when her building became an unabated rat den.”
Junior associates are typically the grunts in most law firm offices. They do the majority of the leg work, while the partners or other veteran lawyers take on the case when it ends up in court. But everyone needs to start somewhere. Pro bono work often strikes two birds with one stone: you help out someone in need for a case few others would want, and also gain valuable experience in the process. And that experience can be priceless for both lawyer and client.
Sonja added, “Pro bono has provided a lot of the big ‘firsts’ of my career. The first time I spoke in court was in a pro bono case. The first time I was entirely responsible for drafting a motion was in a pro bono case. Last month, I did the first closing argument of my career at a resentencing hearing.”
One of the practice areas that get the most pro bono requests is family law (https://www.orlandofamilyteam.com/). Many families can’t afford the price tag often associated with divorce, which means they’re more likely to be depressed or suffer from symptoms associated with financial ruin.