December 17, 2013 Articles

Finding Your Calling: Pro Bono as a Path to New Practice Areas

By M.C. Sungaila

Lawyers do pro bono work for many reasons. Young associates may seek courtroom or case-management experience through pro bono litigation. Attorneys at all levels may wish to give back and serve the underserved. But few expect to find their calling or to find the area of practice they want to focus on. I did.

I was a midlevel associate at a large Los Angeles-based law firm. I had just completed a successful federal criminal trial where I had served as a key member of the defense team, arguing and preparing motions and jury instructions, crafting witness outlines, and preparing witnesses. This level of experience was nearly unheard of for a litigation associate at a big firm, much less at my level. I was grateful for the experience. I enjoyed arguing and preparing the motions and jury instructions and discussing legal issues with the judge, but I cringed when witnesses endured withering cross examination from the senior members of my team. We were working more than 300 hours a month and were in trial far from home. I yearned for the “jazz,” the payoff for all this personal sacrifice. My team members got it when they extracted a key concession from a witness or had a particularly combative day in court. But those things were not fulfilling to me. I wondered what would be.

I found the answer a few months later.

Premium Content For:
  • Litigation Section
Join - Now