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Pro Bono Week 2019: Karen Zacharia – Prioritizing Pro Bono

by Lindsy Miles-Hare

“Busy.” It seems this one word has become an increasingly acceptable answer any time a friend or colleague asks “How are you?” As Chief Privacy Officer of Verizon, Karen Zacharia would be justified in doing this. But she won’t. Not unless you ask her outright. And she is never too busy for pro bono. In a city full of capable, ambitious attorneys eager to prove how busy they are by commiserating about outlandish deadlines and skipped meals, Karen, sets an example by finding time to do pro bono work and encouraging others to do the same. “I recently heard someone use the phrase ‘ruthless prioritization.'” She says. “That phrase very aptly describes how I manage my time.  I determine what is most important for me professionally and personally and try to focus on those items as much as possible.  I appreciate how fortunate I am, and it has always been important to me to try to ‘give back’ to others.”

Karen’s commitment to pro bono started early in her career and continued at Verizon, where she has worked for 25 years. “When I first started my career at a law firm I took a number of pro bono matters.  One that particularly stands out was a police brutality case against a local police force.  I have participated in Verizon’s pro bono since the program was launched.  For example, I have worked at Miriam’s Kitchen (where we help to provide dinners once a month) as well as worked on our Street Law Program for several years.”

Ayuda has partnered with Verizon and DLA Piper to offer immigration consultation clinics for clients in the greater DC area. These clinics, along with other clinics offered by Ayuda’s pro bono program have served 649 clients from 61 countries since their inception in 2017.  Karen has volunteered at several of these clinics and recalls meeting with “one individual at an immigration clinic who had been in the US for a long time.  She assumed that she did not have a path to legal status but because of some things that happened when she came into the US many years ago, we were able to introduce her to resources that might have been able to help her. It was great to see someone who had such a difficult time for so long, and assumed there was no hope, smile when we told her what she should do as next steps.”

So how does one ‘ruthlessly prioritize’ in a corporate setting, where pro bono work is not required? Karen points out that Verizon’s in-house attorneys are more likely to participate in pro bono when there is support from within and a variety of options. “Our current general counsel as well as his predecessor both emphasized pro bono work for all attorneys, so that makes it easier to get others at Verizon to participate.  We also offer a wide variety of pro bono options so that people can participate in what is most meaningful to them.”

Pro bono work is immensely rewarding, but it requires prioritization. Take a lesson from Karen, who has made it work for more than two decades. Make a commitment and stick to it. To help yourself find the time, take advantage of any support offered and think about what kind of work will be most satisfying to you personally.

Lindsy Miles-Hare was the Pro Bono Managing Attorney at Ayuda from Feb 2017-Sept 2019.