Tell me about your regular practice area: Where do you practice and what do you do? What do you love most about your job?
I am the firm’s first pro bono director. I am responsible for supporting and guiding pro bono leaders in all of our offices, sustaining and growing our pro bono partnerships with clients, and setting strategy and goals for our pro bono program. I work in our Charlotte, North Carolina, office, the firm’s second largest. I love my job because it is very purpose-driven and I spend my days doing work that I am passionate about. It serves my goals of helping others in the community.
What pro bono experience or project is most significant to you?
Charlotte Triage, a large communitywide pro bono program that McGuireWoods launched last year, is most significant to me in terms of the scope of collaboration (more than 30 law firms and in-house legal departments are involved). What makes this special is the commitment by firm leadership and direction of resources to pro bono, and the promise and potential that it has to make a significant impact in the lives of Charlotteans who need legal assistance.
Why do you provide pro bono legal service?
I find it rewarding to be able to use my education and training to help those less fortunate in a way that traditional volunteer work cannot. I believe that adequate legal representation can sometimes prevent individuals from falling into crisis and causing even more problems for themselves and society. Both my heart and head lead me to provide pro bono services – it isn’t an either/or.
How has engaging in pro bono legal service enriched your career, personally and/or professionally?
When I was a practicing litigator and a leader of McGuireWoods’ legal project management program, performing pro bono work was a great complement to my primary responsibilities. It allowed me to take a break from other aspects of my job and utilize other skills. It also positioned me to be able to co-lead our Charlotte office pro bono program and eventually become the firm’s pro bono director.
Of what moment(s) from your pro bono work are you the most proud?
I’m immensely proud of the work my pro bono team did to secure disability benefits for a disabled man who had been trying for years to get benefits. I was just out of law school and did not know much about the area of the law, but it did not take a lot to get this client what he deserved. I realized that even pro bono lawyers with little experience can make life-changing impacts on people who deserve it. It was a very emotional moment for me, my co-counsel and the client. That was over 15 years ago and I still remember that moment and the client’s name.
What advice would you give someone who has not yet provided any pro bono work?
Pro bono is for everyone. No matter your background or experience there is a match to be found between your skills and a basic unmet legal need in the community. Figure out what is keeping you from doing pro bono work and talk to your organization’s pro bono leaders to help you find opportunities for pro bono work.
To a non-attorney, who may not know what pro bono legal service is, how would you describe its importance?
Legal rights are essential to preserving dignity and giving people a fair chance in life. Unfortunately, access to legal services is often hindered by the resources to afford legal counsel. There are simply not enough resources to pay attorneys to represent low-income individuals so pro bono attorneys are the only way to ensure that the legal rights of these individuals are protected.