In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Check back each day between Oct. 22-26 for new posts, and visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn how you can get involved in events near you.
Like many people, I went to law school to solve the world’s problems. I had no idea what the world’s problems were, or how I was supposed to solve them. Not surprisingly, law school did little to clarify the issues. It took two events, September 11th and Hurricane Katrina, to remind me why I went to law school in the first place.
Almost ten years ago, I had the chance to work with a retired partner at Paul, Weiss, Jay Greenfield, on a September 11 Victim Compensation Fund claim for a young woman who suddenly became a single mother on 9/11. Soon after 9/11, she also discovered she had an aggressive form of cancer. Jay and I worked to put together extensive information on her and her husband’s lives together, along with medical information about her diagnosis.
Jay led the firm’s efforts to represent clients before the 9/11 Fund, and this was his last client. Kenneth Feinberg, the administrator of the fund, listened to our advocacy on behalf of our client, and Jay noted the hearing would be his last appearance on the record. Our client was incredibly relieved and grateful when she learned she had received one of the Fund’s largest awards. The award allowed our client to raise her children, and deal with her cancer, free of financial worries. Jay continues to practice law, assisting numerous individuals unable to afford legal representation, so his retirement was short-lived.
After Hurricane Katrina, a number of colleagues from the corporation where I worked went down to Louisiana to advocate for those affected by the hurricane. A team of attorneys from all over the country spent hours in church basements attempting to secure the Federal Emergency Management Agency benefits that had been promised. Many people had no time – or patience – to negotiate through the tangled phone trees and FEMA bureaucracy. One woman, whom I was not even able to help, was grateful there were attorneys willing to advocate on her behalf, regardless of the outcome.
I am lucky enough to be at a firm where attorneys are encouraged to do pro bono work throughout their careers – from the most junior attorneys through retirement. Solving the world’s problems still does not seem possible, but representing clients who cannot afford legal representation is.