The WSBA Pro Bono Awards: Benjamin Flick

Lady Justice

You can do a lot with 2,000 hours. You could become a licensed barber or cosmetologist and still have a few hundred hours to spare, you could hike the Pacific Coast Trail three times, or you could travel approximately 2 miles in Seattle traffic.

In just one year, two WSBA members devoted 2,000 hours each to help their clients at no cost. (Statewide in 2018, more than 3,000 WSBA members reported a combined 234,691 hours of pro bono work, which is about a solid month of no-charge legal help from each reporting member.)

To honor this incredible achievement, the WSBA held two surprise celebrations with the top pro bono reporters: Benjamin Flick and Heather Kirkwood. On Jan. 31, WSBA President Rajeev Majumdar, Interim Executive Director Terra Nevitt, staff, friends, and family came together to give thanks to Flick and Kirkwood for their incredible achievements.

In this blog, we take a look at how Flick reported a full-time job’s worth of pro bono. Check the previous post to find out how Kirkwood did the same.

Benjamin Flick’s No-Pay Dream Job

Benjamin Flick really wants you to know how much he appreciates his wife for supporting his Hail Mary ploy to land a dream job.

“Whatever you write I’m happy with, but if you could say ‘he’s thankful to his wife,’ it would get me some points,” he joked during a phone interview from his office in Washington, D.C.

If not for his wife, Jessica Arco, Flick wouldn’t have been able to throw himself headfirst into the world’s most intense unpaid internship, staying there for more than a year and a half. Flick got his dream job by volunteering to work for free while he clung to the hope that a paying gig would open up with the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia.

“It’s a great job, so people don’t really leave,” he said.

Fortunately, a paying position opened up and, even more fortunately, it happened just as Flick’s daughter was born.

A Cashmere, WA native and graduate of George Washington School of Law, Flick clerked for the district court in D.C., received a fellowship to work in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, then another for the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Spokane before returning to the other Washington and pursuing his passion through a career in public defense.

Though Flick reported 2,000 hours of pro bono, he says that was probably a low estimate. After all, even when he was on vacation from his unpaid job, he was researching cases, including a case trial he worked alongside his father, Kyle.

“My dad was paid—I wasn’t,” he joked.

Obviously not driven by financial incentives, Flick says it’s the feeling he gets walking into a courtroom as a public defender where “I feel we have the moral high ground” that compelled him to take a shot at a volunteer, full-time job and stick with it long enough to get on the payroll.

“Just the notion that we’re putting people in cages for really long periods of time, I think for me that has been the biggest motivating factor,” he said. “… I just hope that people recognize that a lot of the time those who perpetrate crimes were victims themselves at one point. And I hope that we not forget their humanity or turn a blind eye to the fact that prison is not a place that is designed to rehabilitate them.” Instead, said Flick, he’s only seen the trauma that incarceration causes to individuals, how it destroys families, and how it ironically makes communities worse. So he wants to stem that cycle and protect his clients while encouraging for other, more creative solutions—to the extent that doing so meant relying on the benevolence of a partner willing to bring home all the bread for 20 months. (He also proudly noted that many of his cases have resulted in full acquittals.)

The thing about pro bono work, Flick said, is that it’s a chance for any lawyer, no matter their day job, to pursue the thing that inspired them to become lawyers in the first place, even when the realities of the legal profession mean they can’t forego financial stability and loan repayment to follow their hearts at their day jobs.

“I invite and encourage a lot of people to take advantage of pro bono just so you can pursue your passions,” Flick said.