Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 36

THE LEARNING CURVE

LEARNING
FROM MY MISSTEPS
By Josephine Bahn

T

he year I clerked, I was barred
from simultaneously doing
pro bono work. I promised myself
that I would make up for it the
following year. I have made many
mistakes during my pro bono work,
but I still believe the impact of serving
clients in need has outweighed all of
them. Doing pro bono also improves
your legal skills; you learn from the
missteps you take.
"Josephine Bahn on behalf of Mr. Patterson.*"
Oh no, that's not his name. Oh no, oh no...
"Ms. Bahn, Ms. Bahn, are you ready to
proceed?"
"Yes, your Honor, of course."
When I said Mr. Patterson's name incorrectly on
the record during a contested child custody case
hearing, I had done pro bono cases in family,
landlord and tenant, and small claims court for
about a year. Even though I was already a year
in, I still made the mistake. And to make matters
worse, I was serving as an attorney-mentor to
a new lawyer taking on his first case.

At that point, I needed to execute a new
retainer with the client to update what my
co-counsel had previously signed. I created the
new document in a hurry as I walked out of the
office, quickly looking at the case file to make
sure I spelled the parties' names correctly and
got the case number right. (I had already said
one client's name wrong; I couldn't spell
another client's name wrong, too!)
After I met the client, I signed the document
and handed it to my co-counsel to sign.
I realized that in my haste, I had spelled my cocounsel's name wrong. She did not point out
the error, but instead she just signed her correct
name on the document. We argued the case
together a few moments later and debriefed on
the Metro thereafter. She never once brought
up the mistake, but I still feel guilty about it.

I've realized the practice of law
will include mistakes - both
big and small - for much of my
career. We practice law after all.

As the hearing continued, we advocated successfully for our client, explaining his circumstances and his child's desire to reside primarily
with him. The judge's ruling ended up being
more favorable to our client than what we had
argued for in our motion. My client received
a fantastic outcome in spite of my misstep.

I write this as a young lawyer in year four of
practice who continues to make mistakes. I was
mortified when I said my client's name wrong,
embarrassed that I appeared careless and
possibly incompetent at the same time in front
of a colleague, a co-counsel at that. But I kept
going. I've realized the practice of law will
include mistakes - both big and small - for
much of my career. We practice law after all.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident,
but it wasn't. I had made mistakes before this
hearing, too. There was the time I joined a case
after it had been in process for several months.

You have to keep arguing for your clients, especially your pro bono clients, even when you've
made a mistake, because oftentimes you are
the only one who notices the mistake. You have

36 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

JUNE 2020

to continue to be an advocate because you
may be the best opportunity for your client.
Last year, there were 30,000 cases filed in D.C.
Landlord and Tenant Court. Landlords were
represented at a 90 percent rate. Tenants? Well,
25,000 cases had unrepresented defendants.
The pro bono work you do and the time you
give really do matter. It might make the difference between your client sleeping in their
home or being evicted. The skills you gain in
the process - discovery, oral argument, getting
over your fear of public speaking, getting
evidence in during a hearing or trial, firstchairing a trial, negotiating settlement with
opposing counsel - are all important, transferrable, and make you a better lawyer and
advocate. These opportunities help you
improve your skill set and showcase your successes while giving back to your community.
The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center offers many pro
bono opportunities to serve, and there is a case
type for anyone. The center recruits, trains, and
mobilizes volunteer attorneys to take on cases
that assist individuals living in poverty who are
at risk of losing their homes, livelihoods, or
families. Whether individually or through your
firm, you can engage in pro bono work in most
areas of the law. Visit the Pro Bono Center's
website at dcbar.org/pro-bono/volunteer/
volunteer.cfm to find one that fits you and
your area of practice.
I encourage you to take on a case or two,
even if you make a mistake (or two) along
the way.
Josephine (Jo) Bahn is an attorney in consumer
enforcement at the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation. Bahn also works with the greater
D.C. community on pro bono cases involving small
claims, landlord-tenant, consumer, and family
law-related issues.
* Not the client's real name.


https://www.dcbar.org/pro-bono/volunteer/volunteer.cfm https://www.dcbar.org/pro-bono/volunteer/volunteer.cfm

Washington Lawyer - June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - June 2020

YOUR VOICE
FROM OUR PRESIDENT
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
BAR BUSINESS: BUDGET REPORT
MEET GEOFFREY M. KLINEBERG: 49TH PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR
MOVING THE NEEDLE ON LAW FIRM DIVERSITY
THE 2020 JOHN PAYTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
JAMES SANDMAN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
LAW & SERVICE: OAG CONNECTS TO THE COMMUNITY
ON FURTHER REVIEW
THE LEARNING CURVE
MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
WORTH READING
ATTORNEY BRIEFS
DISCIPLINARY SUMMARIES
THE PRO BONO EFFECT
SPECIAL SECTION: UNFINISHED FIGHT
LAST WORD
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 4
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - YOUR VOICE
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - FROM OUR PRESIDENT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - BAR BUSINESS: BUDGET REPORT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MEET GEOFFREY M. KLINEBERG: 49TH PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 14
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MOVING THE NEEDLE ON LAW FIRM DIVERSITY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 20
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE 2020 JOHN PAYTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 26
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - JAMES SANDMAN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - LAW & SERVICE: OAG CONNECTS TO THE COMMUNITY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - ON FURTHER REVIEW
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE LEARNING CURVE
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 40
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - WORTH READING
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - ATTORNEY BRIEFS
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - DISCIPLINARY SUMMARIES
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 45
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE PRO BONO EFFECT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 48
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - SPECIAL SECTION: UNFINISHED FIGHT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 51
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - LAST WORD
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover4
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