June 12, 2015 Articles

Overcoming Obstacles to Victory in Pro Bono Representation

By Lorraine Woodwark

One of the greatest challenges in a new lawyer’s career is deciding whether to represent a pro bono client with an unpopular cause. In my case, the cause wasn’t just unpopular—the topic evoked vitriolic hatred. This is my story of how I overcame the obstacles in that pro bono representation.

Early in my career, a college student, whom I shall call “Jamal,” had a constitutional civil rights issue. Jamal came from the inner city, where clubs were often out of reach to kids. He wanted to protect youth organizations’ use of taxpayer-funded public buildings and lands. With assistance from a ghostwriting attorney, he had drafted language for a local county ordinance to be placed on the November ballot. But the drafted ordinance had numerous flaws; it was poorly written and formatted. So it was easy fodder for the county’s legal attack in court. No lawyer in town would touch this case. Jamal was so determined to find an attorney that he braved a women’s group I was president of and patiently waited until the meeting was over to approach me. I told him I had to mull it over for the night and would let him know the next day. Jamal seemed to understand.

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