How Perkins Coie Makes Pro Bono Happen
The October issue of NWLawyer is dedicated to a celebration of 50 years of civil legal aid in Washington. Along with Pro Bono Week in October, NWSidebar is highlighting stories of some of the amazing pro bono work Washington State Bar Association members provide.
To learn more about the Amazon Justice League, check out our previous blog post, “Amazon Justice League Prime for Pro Bono” and “How Amazon’s Legal Team Provided Pro Bono Legal Expertise to the Innocence Project Northwest.”
The Diversity of Big Law Pro Bono
At Perkins Coie, our work ranges from high-profile impact litigation to bring about systemic change to limited-scope assistance to individuals in legal clinics. In 2017, our attorneys provided over 56,000 hours of pro bono legal work across the firm, with over 16,000 hours devoted in the Seattle area.
To start, our firm’s institutional commitment includes pledging to have pro bono represent at least 3 percent of our billable hours, a goal we have met for the past 10 years. Associates get full billable credit on approved pro bono matters, and firm leadership strongly encourages attorneys and legal staff to contribute time to pro bono endeavors.
Due to the heavy need, much of our work has focused on immigration, but we also offer services to veterans, survivors of domestic violence, nonprofits, low income entrepreneurs, and more. We work alongside our nonprofit legal service partners to help meet the needs in our communities.
Pro Bono: Obligation v. Privilege
The biggest issue most people deal with is figuring out how to incorporate pro bono legal service into an already busy schedule. My advice is to adopt the right perspective. One person’s obligation is another’s escape.
Despite having an ethical obligation to render pro bono service, it is not the primary reason most lawyers do it. They view the work as a privilege more than an obligation.
As licensed attorneys, we are in a unique position to help open the doors to a justice system that is difficult, at best, to navigate alone.
I have always considered it a lawyer’s “superpower” to have this unique ability to help individuals with their legal needs or bring about systemic change; it never gets old seeing even the newest attorneys regularly accomplish this.
Pro Bono Can Be a Jump Start for New Attorneys
Make pro bono a good habit by starting early in your career.
Taking on pro bono work as a summer associate or first year can really catapult a new legal career. One summer associate, Rachel, began by representing an immigrant survivor of domestic violence. As a first-year, she got further training and jumped in representing domestic violence survivors who were seeking court protection orders. The pro bono work helped Rachel achieve several goals: following her passion to support victims of gender-based violence and gaining expertise and stand-up court experience.
These matters, and others like them, are discrete and take only a little time, but offer life-changing benefits to those served.
Pro Bono Can be Power Boost for Veteran Attorneys
Almost as “magical” as the early start, is the energizing effect pro bono can have on more senior attorneys.
With seniority comes the ability to choose how you want to spend your time. One well-known business partner, Ben, had long helped emerging companies, advised low-income entrepreneurs, and mentored law students as part of his pro bono work. But Ben bravely shook things up and branched out to represent an unaccompanied immigrant youth, which caused Ben to see a new world in a totally new way. Other senior corporate attorneys have volunteered at homeless shelters and legal clinics, where they are also able to use those few hours of service each month to mentor junior associates.
Where to Start With Your Own Pro Bono Work
Are you a former member of the military? Consider helping a veteran navigate the complex process of obtaining veterans benefits. Struck by the despair of families separated at the border? Work with an immigrant rights group to get trained on how to help asylum seekers.
The need is so great that there will always be a place to match your interests to your commitment.
Remember, pro bono is not an obligation. If you are fortunate enough to have law firm resources available to you, along with legal-aid support, take advantage of the opportunity to help others. You might just find you are helping yourself in the process.