Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. Our final spotlight is of Fiona Finlay-Hunt at Davis Polk. She responded to some questions about her pro bono work.
Fiona Finlay-Hunt is an associate in the New York office of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. She is a member of the Intellectual Property & Technology group and her practice focuses on intellectual property issues arising from corporate transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, securities offerings and credit transactions. Ms. Finlay-Hunt has participated in pro bono work spanning the arts and entrepreneurship, elder law, criminal appeals and corporate governance.
Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work? What motivates you?
I feel the importance of pro bono work relates directly to why a functioning society needs lawyers at all. It is my obligation as an attorney to understand and interpret the law and to translate this understanding into action for my clients. Without an advocate to guide clients through the often very complicated legal process, the rights and protections provided by law are rendered almost meaningless. It is important for those who are persecuted, discriminated against, impoverished and otherwise in need to know that they have a recourse in the law and a friend and ally in their attorney.
What do you see as some of the most important area of need? What kind of cases does your firm/company prioritize?
I believe that the most important areas of need for pro bono legal services currently are immigration and refugee services and issues relating to gender and sexuality. The law is evolving to better serve marginalized communities, such as new and undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ community and those that have been displaced by persecution or violence, but without a lawyer these communities may not be able to access the protections afforded by the law, if they are even aware of their rights.
My firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, is heavily involved in serving these communities. For example, we run clinics and long-term projects relating to transgender name change, uncontested divorces, veteran care issues, elder law, and small business. Additionally, we run a number of collaborative projects to serve asylum seekers with Sanctuary for Families and Human Rights First, as well as an asylum workshop that we conduct with Columbia Law School’s Center for Public Interest Law. Davis Polk’s reach in terms of pro bono offerings is truly extraordinary.
So it is obvious that the need is overwhelming, but so is a busy work day: how do you find the time?
I treat my pro bono clients’ needs the same as those of any of the firm’s clients. In many cases, urgent matters that arise in the context of pro bono work may have a disproportionate impact on the client because they relate to an acute personal issue. I try to balance my urgent work so that I can serve my pro bono clients with the same responsiveness, accuracy and care as any of the firm’s clients. The firm encourages as much pro bono work as possible, so my pro bono work and my billable work are one and the same to me.
How do you find cases or issues that interest you? How do individuals at your firm/company find cases?
In certain cases I have been sought out by a senior associate who has an interesting project for a long-standing pro bono client, or someone has referred a matter to me because of my practice area. On the other hand, the firm’s resources and support for pro bono are such that one may easily sign up to participate in any of the workshops and clinics that the firm hosts or sends attorneys to attend. For instance, I have participated multiple times in the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts clinic that the firm hosts every summer.
Another means by which I have become involved in pro bono work is by working closely with a partner with a robust pro bono practice. As a member of Davis Polk’s Intellectual Property and Technology Group, I have been fortunate to become involved with Pro Bono Net through Frank Azzopardi. These client relationships are one of the best ways for junior associates to become essential team members on interesting and impactful pro bono matters, and to get to know the wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to giving underserved communities vital access to justice.
Pro bono work is a core responsibility of Davis Polk. We are committed to serving the public good and providing legal services to those who cannot otherwise obtain legal representation. Our lawyers work on pro bono matters throughout their careers at the firm, and we champion pro bono work through partner mentoring, training opportunities and the commitment of resources. We consider pro bono work to be of equal stature to billable matters, and our lawyers offer the same caliber of service to our pro bono clients as we do to our paying clients.
Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!
Interested in volunteering? Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!