After the success of our post, Why Pro Bono? You Mean, Why Not?, we thought it would be interesting to pose the question “Why Pro Bono?” to members of the legal community to discuss the benefits of pro bono work. We are very thankful to Harlene Katzman, Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, for being the first to answer our question: “Why Pro Bono?”
For Harlene Katzman, the Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, pro bono work and her job at the firm are about finding balance.
The firm takes on a wide variety of pro bono matters, from those that meet the urgent needs of people living in poverty to those that focus on building the skills of the Firm’s attorneys. At Simpson Thacher we work to balance different types of cases, says Harlene.
When asked about why attorneys take pro bono cases, Harlene says, “Different people have different reasons for doing pro bono work, and recognizing those different needs is what enables me to do my job. Attorneys are drawn to specific client communities and specific issues – some are deeply affected by the escalating rate of poverty, the prevalence of gender based violence, or the complexity of laws that need to be navigated to receive entitled benefits or immigration status. Others simply want to work with disadvantaged clients whose lives are directly affected by their representation. Whatever the motivation, our attorneys understand that being a lawyer gives them special privilege to access the legal system, and that this privilege should be shared with those who have no access to that system to ensure a just society.”
The growing number of individuals who need legal help amid ongoing cuts to legal services means that fewer and fewer of the legal needs of poor Americans are being met. “There are a lot of legal services organizations that handle basic legal needs, especially in urban cities where the poverty rates are highest, but budget cuts have slashed their staff and resources substantially. In New York, legal aid organizations have to turn away eight of every nine people they see,” says Harlene. She adds that legal aid organizations leverage their expertise by training and mentoring law firm lawyers.
In addition to matters addressing the urgent needs of low -income individuals, attorneys at Simpson Thacher handle environmental matters, civil rights cases, corporate matters to assist entrepreneurs, international human rights projects, and provide counsel to nonprofit organizations.
Pro bono matters come to the firm in a variety of different ways. “As the Firm’s Pro Bono Counsel, my job is to not only bring in a wide variety of matters, but also to ensure that they are a good fit for our attorneys, and are impactful,” says Harlene. “We encourage our attorneys to bring matters they care about to the Firm. For example, a new associate brought in a case from her law school clinic to the Firm.”
At Simpson Thacher, attorneys strive to find a balance in representing institutional commercial clients with pro bono clients, who are often low-income individuals. Representing clients with such different needs often enhances the satisfaction and meaning our attorneys find in their work. Harlene feels that a strong pro bono culture is important for a law firm of Simpson Thacher’s size and reputation. “It’s hard to find someone at our Firm who hasn’t worked on a pro bono matter,” she adds. “As a result, most of our attorneys expect to participate in our pro bono program.”
Despite the variety of matters, some still are hesitant to take on a pro bono case. Harlene says that it can be daunting to take on a matter in an unfamiliar area of the law. “We work hard to train associates in the relevant area of law and create internal networks that associates can look to for advice,” says Harlene. With the support network at Simpson Thacher, attorneys are more confident handling new types of cases.
Harlene also encourages attorneys to learn time management skills to balance their billable work with their pro bono work. “Being a good associate involves good time management. Because we have a good balance in the types of pro bono matters we offer – from short term legal advice clinics to multi-year impact litigations – most attorneys can find a way to fit pro bono matters into their schedules.”
“Every day I think about balance, and I think the Firm does a good job of achieving it.”