By Vanessa Batters–Thompson
For Katrina Rouse, public service transcends her day job. Despite her challenging career as a trial lawyer with DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Katrina regularly volunteers with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, working with the Center’s Advocacy & Justice Clinic to represent low-income clients. This volunteer service is central to Katrina’s professional life: “I have a goal of taking on at least one case per year. If that case gets dismissed quickly, I take another. It is my personal commitment to being a good resident of the city.”
Katrina first became aware of the Pro Bono Center when she started working at the Antitrust Division. Her orientation packet included a flier about pro bono opportunities for federal government lawyers. Katrina immediately contacted Laura Klein, manager of the Federal Government Pro Bono Program, and Laura encouraged Katrina to take a Pro Bono Center case.
With the Advocacy & Justice Clinic, Katrina represents low-income District of Columbia residents. In her early cases, she defended tenants in eviction suits. In so doing, she helped her clients avoid eviction and stay in their homes, compel their landlords to repair housing code violations, and obtain rent abatements for time residing in a unit that didn’t satisfy housing-code requirements.
Katrina then branched out to handling a challenging custody case with complex paternity issues, and a consumer case involving the sale of an uninhabitable home. She feels comfortable taking cases involving new subjects because the clinic provides training, an expert mentor, and online resources. As Katrina explains, “I have the support of mentors, so the differences in substantive law are not that concerning to me.”
In addition to representing clients in lawsuits, Katrina has volunteered on several other Pro Bono Center projects. She has drafted wills and power of attorney forms for low-income individuals through the Wills Clinic and volunteered (and recruited her colleagues to volunteer) at the Saturday Advice & Referral Clinic.
Although she learns new skills and gets other professional benefits from pro bono work, Katrina is driven primarily by the relationships that she forms. “In my work for the Antitrust Division, I do not have individual clients,” she said. “What is most rewarding to me about pro bono work is having a client who you meet on a regular basis and becomes a part of your professional life.” But she also recognizes that pro bono contributions by lawyers—including government lawyers—are necessary to ensure that the District’s low-income residents receive equal justice: “Everyone should get a lawyer in cases that affect their fundamental ability to live.”
Vanessa Batters–Thompson is the Managing Attorney of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center.