Washington Lawyer - August 2017 - 45

THE PRO BONO EFFECT

Pro Bono and the 21st-Century Lawyer:

WHAT WE CAN DO
By Kevin Minsky

A

s a young associate at Swidler & Berlin
in the heyday of the late-1990s dot-com
bubble, little did I realize that almost
20 years later a small pro bono bankruptcy case would create a ripple
throughout my career, sparking a passion
for finding ways to help those less fortunate
through pro bono volunteer work that has continued in my roles as outside counsel, in-house
counsel, and now through my work with the D.C.
Bar Pro Bono Center. The side benefits of this pro
bono experience have been invaluable: I have
gained significant experience in areas of the law
outside of my day-to-day practice, built relationships with attorneys and other legal professionals
inside and outside of where I work, and, most of all,
helped fulfill unmet legal needs in our community.

At the time of my pro bono epiphany, I had only
graduated law school about two years before, so
I was still pretty green. But my law firm was encouraging young associates to engage in pro bono
work and gave us the time to do so. My first case
was my most memorable. My client, an elderly
grandfather, had just lost his wife after an extended
illness, and due to a late filing with Medicare, he
and his wife had accumulated massive medical
debt. On top of his loss, he faced regular threatening calls and letters from creditors. My client,
who had never worked with an attorney before,
didn't know what to do.
Luckily, he was referred to my law firm as a potential
pro bono client through the D.C. Bar Pro Bono
Center. I chose to represent him based on his story,
but I had no prior bankruptcy law experience. I only
had a strong desire to help him, as well as support
from the Pro Bono Center and my law firm. This
support network, both then and now, is an important part of the pro bono experience and a major
reason why cases like this can be successfully
handled by attorneys who have a lot of passion
but little prior experience.
The case resulted in my filing of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge petition with the court that,
if granted, would eliminate all my client's prebankruptcy debt. The Pro Bono Center and a senior
attorney at my firm provided me with the support
I needed to successfully represent my client,
including guidance on the key legal issues, what
to expect at the bankruptcy hearing, and other
pointers. In the end, the court granted our petition,

enabling my client to move past his tragedy, start
his life again, and move to a new city to live with
his son. I will never forget his heartfelt thank you,
and how, with the successful resolution of his case,
I learned the impact that an attorney could have
on a person's life.
This first pro bono case stayed with me, and in later
roles as in-house counsel at Microsoft, I actively
sought out new opportunities to engage in pro
bono on more than just a one-on-one client basis.
I was amazed by the strong commitment to pro
bono demonstrated by our law department's
leadership, and I volunteered for a role inside the
department to encourage pro bono volunteering
by attorneys and professional staff. Each year, we
organized events for in-house attorneys and legal
professionals, including a pro bono volunteer fair
where state and local bar associations and pro
bono legal services organizations offered opportunities to get involved.
Microsoft's pro bono fairs were exciting and informative. I learned firsthand about the challenges,
fears, and concerns of my colleagues that held
them back from volunteering. The two most
common are, "I want to help but don't have enough
time," and "I don't know the pro bono area of law."
The good news about both concerns is that they
are easily overcome with the support the Pro Bono
Center and other local bars provide to volunteers,
such as training sessions for attorneys in advance
of meeting clients and at-event support provided
by seasoned attorneys. Plus, many pro bono events
allow attorneys to partner with other attorneys,
so no one is left advising a client alone.
As for concerns about time, the good news is
that there are a variety of pro bono events attorneys
can choose based on their availability, such as an
evening or Saturday morning legal clinic with no
post-event commitment. The D.C. Bar Pro Bono
Center's Small Business Clinic and Advice & Referral
Clinic are two such examples. For those attorneys
looking for longer-term client engagement, there
are cases available in several areas, including government benefits assistance, landlord-tenant
disputes, and family law matters. The Pro Bono
Center has a variety of programs in many practice
areas to suit your experience and interest in learning
new areas of the law.

When I moved back to Washington, D.C., in 2014 for
my current role as in-house counsel for Booz Allen
Hamilton, I returned to my roots and reconnected
with the Pro Bono Center, looking for pro bono
opportunities. I was blown away by the number
of programs the Center manages for those in need
as well as the volunteer opportunities it provides.
Since then, I have been involved with the nonprofit
and small business legal assistance programs, which
hold daytime and evening events where attorneys
provide brief advice to nonprofits and small businesses on a variety of issues, including corporate
law, contracts, intellectual property, tax, and insurance questions. In most cases, no prior experience
in these areas is required since the Pro Bono Center
provides training to volunteers on the subject
matter and has expert attorneys available the day
of to answer questions. Moreover, attorneys who
may be unsure of how to handle a client alone are
paired with another attorney, and there is no longterm commitment required unless the attorney is
interested in continuing the relationship. You just
come to the clinic, advise the client, and you've
completed your pro bono service.
As attorneys, we have many different forces
competing for our time and focus, including our
clients, families, and other obligations. And while
many of us seek opportunities to help people who
need legal assistance, we don't know if we have
either the time or ability to do so. If you're asking
whether you can make time to make a difference
with pro bono, the answer is yes. Opportunities are
there that will fit your schedule, the need is deep
and, critically, you need not take this journey alone.
The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center is there to assist you
along the way by providing you with opportunities,
training, skills development, and new professional
and social relationships. I encourage you to take the
first step.

Kevin Minsky is associate general counsel at Booz Allen
Hamilton Inc. and serves on the D.C. Bar Pro Bono
Center's Pro Bono Committee.

To learn about pro bono opportunities,
visit dcbar.org/pro-bono/volunteer/
transactional.


http://www.dcbar.org/pro-bono/volunteer/transactional.cfm

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