Oct 24 - Wendy Atrokhov, Public Service Counsel, Latham & Watkins
In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences.
Several years back, I worked on a series of pro bono asylum matters that profoundly affected my view of the world and my profession.
Although the matters were not related, the three clients shared important characteristics: each was educated, professionally successful and respected in his community. Each belonged to the same ethnic and religious group as his country's ruling elite. Each had a wife and children. And each could have easily, effortlessly blended into the masses and lived a peaceful, prosperous life.
But each of these men stood in vocal opposition to human rights abuses perpetrated in their respective countries knowing that it could - and ultimately would - put them in the cross hairs. In acting bravely and morally, they risked their lives and the lives of their families, and were ultimately forced to leave behind all of their worldly possessions in their flights to safety.
It was the first time I had come to know genuine political dissidents. I felt humble in their presence, privileged to be in a position to help them and grateful to my firm for supporting, encouraging and valuing my work. I also felt tremendous pressure knowing that a decision in favor or against asylum for any one of them was potentially a matter of life or death. The experience and perspective I gained working on these matters have benefitted me in everything I've subsequently done in my career on both the commercial and pro bono fronts.
Epilogue: In the end, each of our clients was granted asylum and soon after joined by his family. As much as their roads to asylum were strikingly similar, their experiences thereafter varied considerably. While one client wasted no time learning English and building a life for himself and his family, the other two struggled with integration, with one ultimately making the difficult decision to return to his home country.
Wendy Atrokhov serves as Public Service Counsel for Latham & Watkins, responsible for managing, coordinating and advancing the firm's global pro bono and public service efforts. Ms. Atrokhov has served on Latham's Pro Bono Committee since 2003, establishing the first pro bono program for the Moscow office and leading the office's public service efforts. She served as a founding participant of PILnet's Moscow Pro Bono Clearinghouse and currently serves on the Leadership Committee of PILnet's Pro Bono Council.