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June 10, 2021

What Are the Benefits of Giving Back Through Pro Bono?

December 17, 2013

Empathy—the ability to feel the perspective of a distinctly different human being—is fundamentally hard. But litigators need to be able to empathize—with their clients’ plights, with those tasked with reading their work product, and with opposing counsel and parties who pose obstacles to achieving a reasonable resolution. In some ways, women have a cultural advantage when it comes to empathy because we tend to get more practice with it in extralegal contexts. Pro bono work provides a means for litigators with an empathy advantage to hone it in a particularly rewarding way. It can also be a means for litigators who find empathy a challenge to seek out experiences that will expand their capacity to understand someone who may seem entirely “other.” A win for all concerned!


Gretchen S. Sween, of counsel, Beck Redden in Austin, Texas

A commitment to pro bono work is an integral part of a young lawyer’s career. As a second-year associate, pro bono matters have provided me with “stand-up” lawyering opportunities, skills for negotiating with opposing counsel, and client interactions, all of which I might not have had as early in my career if I had been limited to billable assignments. I know colleagues who got their current private-sector jobs by volunteering for pro bono projects. Additionally, pro bono assignments provide wonderful opportunities for associate-partner relationship building and networking through public interest organizations. These are all ways that pro bono can help young attorneys to shape their own legal careers. Pro bono has certainly been an asset to my professional growth and one of the most rewarding areas of my work as an attorney.


Emily Seymore, associate, Paul Hastings LLP in Chicago


“I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the course of the defenseless or oppressed….” Oath of Attorney. This is the oath we take and, whether you grew up watching “Perry Mason,” “Matlock,” or “Law and Order,” at some point this vow was probably a consideration in your choice to become an attorney. I entered law school ready to fight the good fight for those in need. I graduated needing to pay off student loans and take care of my young family—and looking to do that somewhere with good people. Working long hours and trying to be a good mother, who had time for pro bono? About two years into my practice, I decided I was going to dedicate more time to pro bono service. The result for me was self-fulfillment, both in helping others and in being the master of my cases. My pro bono clients have been so grateful, and they have chosen to repay me in their own ways: Some referred new clients, while others sent a lovely thank-you card with $20 enclosed and a note to take my kids for ice cream. As a mother of two small children, an associate trying to make partner, and a woman who cares about her community, I have found some of the greatest joy, self-fulfillment, and balance in volunteering my services. Pro bono service unites mentor and mentee, assists those in need, fulfills our oath, restores our profession’s reputation, and feeds our soul.


Jennifer Cowan, attorney, Lewis, Longman, & Walker, P.A. in Bradenton, Florida

December 17, 2013