January 01, 2019 Feature

Making the Most of Pro Bono Opportunities: Building a Litigation Practice

Geoffrey Derrick and Lauren Weinstein

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Litigation associates nationwide sometimes face tremendous hurdles in getting stand-up experience. That is due, in large part, to the decline of trials. The apex of a case is now more likely to be summary judgment briefing, a key deposition, or mediation. If the court grants argument on a dispositive motion or in an appeal, a partner will likely handle it.

Associates doubtless get valuable experience in fee-paying cases but often struggle to gain quick and frequent stand-up experience. An excellent way to obtain that experience is by building a personal pro bono practice, helping the community while developing valuable litigation skills.

Cultivating a personal pro bono practice offers litigation associates additional opportunities for courtroom experience and business development early in their careers. Pro bono work also forces associates to learn case-management skills and case-winning strategies—they are running the show after all. They gather facts from the ground up and make crucial decisions about how to litigate, all with the support of dedicated partners overseeing their work.

Many firms have already developed robust institutional pro bono practices. But associates can also find valuable opportunities by developing pro bono work in their own areas of interest. Doing so allows associates to contribute to essential, justice-oriented work that they care about personally while cultivating critical litigation and business development skills.

Some attorneys might bristle at the suggestion that developing a personal pro bono practice is time well spent. The reality of corporate litigation is that associates may have little free time for pro bono work. And, of course, billable work is what keeps the lights on.

But associates in litigation practices should shed their hesitations about building a personal pro bono practice. Firms and clients alike want their litigation attorneys to actually have litigation instincts. Developing one’s own pro bono practice is an invaluable way to hone those instincts, become a better lawyer, and develop the experience that pays dividends over the course of a career.

So how do you develop a personal pro bono practice?

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