Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 45

THE PRO BONO EFFECT

DO
PRO
BONO
WORK:
Sound Advice That Still Resonates
By Shavon Smith

T

hroughout one's legal career you will get advice
aplenty: Take this bar, work in Big Law, don't work in
Big Law, go into this practice area, don't practice in
this city. The list goes on. But there is one piece of
advice I have heard in every stage of my career from lawyers of
all stripes: do pro bono work. Even as I transitioned from being
a Big Law associate to a solo practitioner, the encouragement
to do pro bono work has remained the best advice of my
career. Participating in the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's many
clinics has allowed me to learn new practice areas, meet new
people, and serve members of the community where I live
and work.
Like many other lawyers, I worked as a summer associate at a law firm while in
law school. The experience was informative; I do not think I heard anyone utter
the words "pro bono" the entire summer, and I definitely did not see partners at
that firm encourage it. I didn't yet know much about the practice of law at the
time, but I did realize that working in an environment where lawyers did not
attempt to give back to their community would not be ideal for me. Luckily,
my next two early career experiences proved that legal practice and pro bono
service can go hand in hand.
After law school, I clerked at the D.C. Court of Appeals and the D.C. Superior
Court. My new boss and mentor, now-Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby,
had a very different view of pro bono work. She often advised me that I would
find true fulfillment from my legal career if I coupled my routine work with pro
bono work, a commitment to service, and community involvement. Her words
stayed with me even after I completed my clerkship and began working at
a large downtown firm. During my time there, the firm facilitated and encouraged pro bono work, so I was able to apply that consistent piece of advice -
do pro bono work - even as a young associate.

Shavon J. Smith by Tramaine Seay

And I jumped at the chance. While at the firm, I had the opportunity to represent the legal guardian of a child in a dispute between the biological parents,
both of whom had battled drug addiction; represented tenants in landlord-
tenant court; and frequently volunteered with the Pro Bono Center's Advice
& Referral Clinic, where I could counsel clients on various issues such as family,
landlord/tenant, consumer, probate, tax, bankruptcy, and employment law.
I discovered that I especially liked volunteering at the Advice & Referral Clinic
because it challenged my ability to think on my feet and explain legal concepts
to individuals who were not lawyers. These pro bono experiences allowed me
to have client contact, argue motions in court, and participate in mediations
- opportunities not always afforded junior associates. More importantly, I had
the opportunity to solve problems that had an immediate and substantial
impact on people's lives.
After nearly six years of toiling away in corporate law, I realized that I wanted to
strike out on my own, but I was stuck on what type of entrepreneurial venture
to pursue. Ultimately, I had an epiphany and decided to use my years of experience as a business attorney and litigator to help small and mid-size business

owners reach their goals. Currently, I work as a solo practitioner serving as
counsel to small business owners. Working as a solo practitioner, it is more
challenging to find time to do pro bono. Without the structure and administration of a big law firm, it can become easy to forego engaging in pro bono
service. But despite these challenges, the good advice that I received at the
start of my career to do pro bono work still applies today.
The business owners that I counsel decided to create something new for many
of the same reasons that I did, including a desire to help others. Naturally, then,
pro bono service has remained an integral part of my life. In fact, doing pro
bono work has proven to be even more important to my career as a solo practitioner. When I started my practice, working with small business owners was
new to me. But my experience regularly volunteering with the Pro Bono
Center's Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic has allowed me to learn about
this unfamiliar area of the law and have a greater understanding of my clients
and their most pressing issues. At the clinic, I have had the opportunity to
counsel everything from new start-ups to family-owned businesses whose
budgets aren't quite big enough for legal services, and the kinds of questions I
field can range from the best choice of entity to intellectual property concerns,
to potential problems with business partners or investors. I especially enjoy this
clinic because in addition to providing legal service, I get to speak with business
owners about their strategy, growth, and passion for their work - all the things
that inspired me to work with small business owners in my own practice.
Pro bono work also allows me to learn new areas of the law and have exposure
to events and people I may not otherwise encounter, which is important
because it is very easy to become isolated as a solo. Although I do not have
a background in bankruptcy law, I was able to attend an intensive, two-day
training on bankruptcy offered by the Pro Bono Center, and then volunteer with
the Center's Bankruptcy Clinic. Through that clinic, I have now represented two
individuals in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Both clients were hardworking, full-time
employees who liked their jobs, but circumstances placed them both in tough
spots financially. The ability to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy was truly a fresh start
for these clients, and they were profoundly thankful to have someone guide
and counsel them through the process.
In our current tumultuous times, it feels like you cannot turn on the news or
scroll through your social media feed without hearing of some tragedy or event
that has a devastating impact on the lives of real people. I don't know about
you, but I often feel overwhelmed and at a loss for how to best help. However,
as attorneys, one of our first instincts should be to ask how we can use our legal
training and skills to positively impact a situation. I can say without a doubt that
my pro bono work, in addition to my involvement in community organizations,
nonprofits, and serving on bar committees, has enriched my work and life.
The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center makes it easy to navigate pro bono service, and
the staff is immensely helpful in assisting once you take on a matter. So, if you're
considering pro bono service, I'll share with you the same sage advice I received
so long ago: do pro bono work. Go ahead and take the plunge today.
Shavon Smith is the founder of The SJS Law Firm, PLLC where she represents business
owners, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits in all legal aspects of their ventures, including
employment matters, contracts, intellectual property, compliance, and legal strategy.
*

WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

DECEMBER 2017 45


http://www.dcbar.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - December 2017

Your Voice
From Our President
Our Membership
Career & Professional Development
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Government & Gavel
Feature: 50 Years of Space Law
Feature: The Resurrection of Civics Class
Feature: Privacy in the Digital Age
Feature: AI & The Legal Workplace
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Associates Angle
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 1
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 2
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 3
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 4
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 7
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Our Membership
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Career & Professional Development
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 11
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 13
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Government & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 15
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Feature: 50 Years of Space Law
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 17
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 18
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 19
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 20
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 21
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Feature: The Resurrection of Civics Class
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 23
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 24
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 25
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Feature: Privacy in the Digital Age
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 27
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 28
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 29
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Feature: AI & The Legal Workplace
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 31
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 32
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 33
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 35
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 37
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Associates Angle
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 45
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 47
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - Cover4
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