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2023 Summer Forum: Making a Big Impact on the Non-Litigation Path

When considering pro bono opportunities, you may instinctively think of navigating the court system with a client. What you may not think of are the wide and varying opportunities to engage in non-litigation pro bono work. Our Non-litigation Pro Bono panel provided an informational discussion on how to get involved with non-litigation pro bono opportunities during our Summer Forum panel on June 8, 2023.

The panel included: Susie Hoffman, Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring as moderator; and panelists Darryl Maxwell, Director of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center and manager of the Small Business Brief Advice Clinic; Vanessa Batters-Thompson, Executive Director of DC Appleseed; Jim Joseph, co-chair of the tax practice at Arnold & Porter; and Cassie Ehrenberg, Senior Counsel for Pro Bono Initiatives at the Lawyering Project. You can learn more about our panelists’ backgrounds here

Our panelists demonstrated the ways a person can carve a career path that includes non-litigation pro bono experiences and opportunities by highlighting their own varied experiences. Vanessa described moving throughout her career to many legal services organizations that allowed her to gain experience with community members living through the problems that she now takes on as policy matters in her job daily. On the other hand, Jim discussed his decades of experience at Arnold & Porter and how he used pro bono experience to create the variety in his career that has kept him engaged and excited. Although his primary practice is tax law, Jim is also one of the nation’s leading minds on election protections because of his pro bono service. Whether they moved around or stayed in one place, everyone found ways to go beyond their basic job description to advocate for people and causes they are passionate about through non-litigation pro bono work.

Panelists then described the variety of work that falls under the non-litigation pro bono umbrella. Darryl provided examples from the Small Business Brief Advice Clinic including: reviewing employment manuals, walking through legal mergers, assisting with establishing entities and their governance, contracts, IP disputes, and more! Our discussion highlighted the powerful support pro bono service provides small businesses that act as employment opportunities, cultural hubs, and growth opportunities for communities. Cassie shared her work with the Lawyering Project, a network of attorneys providing free legal advice on access to abortion care. Their work ensures both patients and providers have the information they need to exercise their rights. The variety of non-litigation pro bono opportunities include operational assistance, substantive support, and policy advocacy. 

The panelists continued with tips on how law students can get involved in non-litigation pro bono work!

  • Tip 1: Go the legislative route. A passionate advocate of election protection, Jim wants to see the next generation get involved with protecting voting rights and the causes they are passionate about through legislation!
  • Tip 2: Contact your law school’s pro bono coordinator. Vanessa sees so much passion in folks and knows that it’s hard to know where to start, so she recommends starting with the staff and faculty at your law school!
  • Tip 3: Tap into the clinics at your law school. Some of Cassie’s best experiences came from her time in the clinic, and she recommends looking for pro bono experience through representing clinic clients!
  • Tip 4: Get direct client experience. Darryl empowers you to seek out hands-on experiences before graduation; whether through direct representation or observation, he sees pro bono as a bridge between law school and full-time practice. 

When working to make a change, many assume that high-impact litigation is the most impactful work. Our panel challenges each of us to think more broadly about the systems we live in and realize that every tool in the toolbox must be used to effect change. You can make a huge difference if you think creatively about the interconnected nature of our society. The parting words from our panel are: think broadly; find your power where you find your passion; and investigate opportunities to get involved! 

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