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.
Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from Michael J. Winn, Senior Staff Attorney at OneJustice.
There’s a place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I used to live, called Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. The store offers a unique opportunity for seemingly ordinary individuals to stock up on the tools they need—capes, masks, jetpacks—to become superheroes. I presume the store’s customers have “ordinary” identities. They have families and conventional jobs, but, in their free time, they become caped crusaders, justice seekers.
As a senior staff attorney at OneJustice, a public interest nonprofit in California, my job is to manufacture and distribute superhero supplies for private lawyers, who—in their free time—become superheroes for low-income and underserved communities. I am Batman’s Alfred, The X-Men’s Xavier.
I started my legal career as Batman. At Weil Gotshal in New York, I spent my days as a litigation associate, and my free time as a justice vigilante. I had Alfreds and Xaviers of my own. To start, Weil’s whipsmart team of pro bono professionals, Miriam Buhl, Johanna Markson, and Barbara Nichols.
But, it wasn’t until I helped Holocaust survivors apply for a German compensation program that I realized the unfathomably broad and inconceivably deep impact that pro bono programs have on society.
Get this: Attorneys from Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit in Los Angeles, and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, a big law firm committed to pro bono, concocted this audacious (or, dare I say, heroic) plan to equip thousands of law firm attorneys to help thousands of Holocaust survivors around the country. They would train law firm attorneys to not only serve Holocaust survivors, but also to train more pro bono attorneys (who would, in turn, serve more Holocaust survivors) and to coordinate clinics in their region.
I was one of the first attorneys at Weil Gotshal to be trained, which in turn involved me in further trainings and numerous clinics throughout the city’s five boroughs. I’ve never felt more like a superhero, and for good reason – I was helping people, many people. About 10 people, when all was said and done. There was reason for me to be proud.
However, I couldn’t shake the thought of how many lives had been changed by Bet Tzedek and Manatt’s strategic thinking. Thousands of lives were altered because of a sharp attorney training program and a phenomenally planned framework for assisting clients around the country.
That’s what brought me to OneJustice. The idea is that on any given day, in any given place, private law attorneys can stock up on superhero supplies, don a cape and mask, and become superheroes to the millions of Americans who live in poverty and isolation.
Today I am responsible for getting top-notch pro bono legal services to millions of low-income Californians. I do so by giving private attorneys and law students the tools and direction they need to make a real, lasting difference on the lives of their pro bono clients.
Celebrate Pro Bono Week reminds me of the incredible feeling you get as both a pro bono attorney, when you’re empowered to help a client, and as a public interest attorney, when you empower a pro bono attorney to help a client. This world needs superheroes, just as it needs Alfreds and Xaviers, and it’s been an honor to have been both.
*Editor’s Note: For those who have never had a chance to visit Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. on Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, this storefront provides cover for an even more invaluable community resource in the back room: 826 NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Even if you aren’t a New Yorker, there may be an 826 Chapter in your community. If you’re so inclined, check them out, get inspired, and get involved … and tell them Alfred sent you.