By Melanie Orhant
Ryan Guilds is a lawyer at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and board chair of Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC). Over the past eighteen years, he’s found that pro bono cases offer the chance to do work “that not only feels good but also gives you skills as a lawyer.” And Ryan has done pro bono work in spades.
Ryan’s pro bono work started before he was actually a lawyer. While a 1L at the University of North Carolina School of Law, he worked on capital cases and developed an interest in prisoner’s rights.
After law school, Ryan joined Arnold & Porter, which encourages its lawyers to spend at least 15% of their time to pro bono cases—he worked on pro bono cases from the moment he walked into the firm. One of Ryan’s first pro bono matters was a death-penalty case; it lasted for seventeen years. His client was finally taken off death row and released four months ago.
For the last five years, Ryan has focused on the rights of victims, and in particular survivors of sexual assault. Four years ago, he met Lydia Watts, NVRDC’s founding board chair, who introduced him to the organization and its combination of advocacy, case management, and legal services on behalf of victims. As a pro bono lawyer for NVRDC, Ryan represents clients and supervises junior lawyers. And for the past three years, he has served on NVRDC’s board, and now, as board chair, oversees the organization’s finances and strategy.
In his spare time, Ryan helps other Arnold & Porter lawyers working to protect elderly clients from abuse. In addition, he has developed a firm-wide pro bono initiative to support victims of military sexual trauma; that program has represented dozens of sexual-assault survivors in the military court-martial process. Earlier this year, Ryan accepted the “Protect Our Defenders Justice Award” on behalf of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer.
Needless to say, “Ryan is the embodiment of the ideal pro bono attorney who has fully committed to using his time and energy to advance towards a greater good,” said NVRDC’s Co-Executive Director, Bridgette Stumpf. “He has been been instrumental in advancing the rights of survivors in both the civilian and military context on individual pro bono cases, but also lives by the mission of NVRDC dedicating his personal time to support the organization more broadly as the board-chair.”
Why does Ryan do all this pro bono work? “I think it is an obligation of all lawyers to use the power that comes with our legal education to do good,” he said. “We are in a unique position to affect change and do justice.”
Melanie Orhant is the Pro Bono and Volunteer Coordinator at Network for Victim Recovery of DC.