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  • Writer's pictureGreater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project

An Open Letter to Law Firm Management: Spotlighting Pro Bono Opportunities for New Talent

Anastasija Mladenovska 

June 23th, 10:30am, 2024 

As an avid fan of Suits, my understanding of pro bono work was largely shaped by the dramatized portrayals on TV. Before interning with the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project, I believed that pro bono cases were always grand, headline-worthy stories where attorneys provided favors to underprivileged and marginalized clients. This misconception I developed over the years not only overlooked the everyday reality and significance of pro bono work in the legal profession but also failed to incorporate the type of attorneys that are involved with pro bono work and highlight that sometimes small and short attorney involvement can have a tremendous impact on those who need it the most. 

Now that I am a bit older and have first-hand seen the pro-bono management in the Greater Dayton area, I want to bring to your attention why you should consider and pitch pro bono service to all of your legal representatives, but particularly your young lawyers that are just joining you. 

First, just as Associate U.S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said 22 years ago:  “We educated, privileged lawyers have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice.”, it is important to recognize that pro bono work in the context of the nonprofit sector is the cornerstone of contemporary American society. This might sound contradictory to what we see and hear every day - after all, it is the great economy that differentiates the U.S. from many other nations however the nonprofit sector of which our organization, the Greater Dayton Volunteer is a part of, is a great contributor to the economy and has consistently employed more people than their counterparts - the for-profit sector. 

While it is great when an attorney goes out on their own and takes on a pro bono case like many TV shows suggest, this uncoordinated effort without the resources available at an organizational level, is not only costly and time consuming, and might not protect the attorney in its entirety. 

I wish to bring pro bono legal work that happens within organizations to your attention as these are the places that act as a liaison between attorneys and community members and offer their time and expertise in a structured manner. By engaging in pro bono service through established organizations like ours, young lawyers not only gain valuable experience but also contribute meaningfully to the community.

To make my case, I propose the following 5 reasons why pro bono work is good for your young attorneys:

  • Opportunity to gain exposure to different areas of law outside of practice. Pro bono opportunities help young lawyers gain experience with different cases in the courtroom and outside in civil litigation. Often, an organization like ours assigns different cases to attorneys we think would be a good fit for the particular client, but sometimes our attorneys might ask for a client or even bring clients to us. Overall, civil cases often call for on the spot critical thinking as well as an opportunity to tap into a young lawyer’s curiosity as it's most likely that clients have a lot of questions and require not only legal assistance from their attorneys but also empathy, compassion and familiarity with resources in action. 

  • Coordinated effort through legal aid allows for big impacts in a short amount of time. The good news about pro bono within an organization is that the only thing a young attorney needs to do is showing up for their clients, representing them in Court and advising them. All the paperwork and reporting from talking to the client and coordinating appointments between the two to malpractice insurance are covered by the staff in our organization. What’s more, GDVLP only processes uncomplicated cases, that is, cases expected to have a turnaround time of about a couple of months to a year. 

  • Building community by doing good and establishing your reputation. More and more young professionals are voicing their opinions when it comes to company culture. In fact, 56% of workers in a 2019 Glassdoor Survey claimed that a good workplace culture is more important than salary for job satisfaction. A law firm with an established record of pro bono work is a great example of an organization that looks beyond itself to connect with the community and give back. This is not only a way to establish reputation in town, but it also allows you to stay abreast of events in the community, connect with potential new recruits and build crucial relationships with the nonprofit sector. 

  • Client interactions that make any day more dynamic and provide a space for collective reflection. One thing that is amazing about pro bono work is the opportunity to speak to clients in consultations which is not an experience many young lawyers in corporate settings get early on or may never get. Client interactions are not only a window into the world of the most marginalized that allow attorneys to directly face their privilege but they can also be life changing experiences because at the end of the day, attorneys that do not work with individual clients as often are able to visualize who they are serving.

  • 6 hours of pro bono in the state of Ohio means 1 hour of CLE and attorneys can earn up to 6 CLE hours in one reporting period. A great incentive for young attorneys to mention is the possibility of earning CLE credits through pro bono work. Our organization works closely with the Dayton Bar Association which provides free training, mentorship and other programs for fulfilling the CLE requirements, but so far - we think our pro bono program takes the lead and the spotlight. 

As outlined previously, I urge all law firms to consider advocating for pro bono service among their legal teams, especially new recruits. Doing so not only fulfills ethical responsibilities but also strengthens our community and legal profession as a whole.


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