October 2015 Volunteer Spotlight - John Ogden


John Ogden



Recently the NY City Bar’s Pro Bono Committee presented a program for attorneys who are solo or in small law firms / legal departments i.e. those without pro bono coordinators.   These attorneys face special challenges based on time and resource availability. The goal of the program was to identify avenues for them to have a pro bono practice. The program material can be found through this link, in the NYC Pro Bono Center library.

John Ogden moderated that program. Pro Bono Net shares some of his thoughts and are very proud to feature him as our Volunteer Spotlight this month. Pro Bono Net thanks John for taking the time to share his experience and welcome his insights.  A key theme of the panel was that volunteers "outside big law" can do pro bono and can do it well and we believe John is a fantastic and inspiring example!

Related Content

September 2015 Volunteer Spotlight

* CLE materials from I Don’t Have A Pro Bono Coordinator in My Office, How Can I Do Pro Bono?

Volunteer Opportunities Guide 

CLARO Consumer Debt clinics are looking for volunteers! 

Name and background information:
I am of Counsel in the Montvale NJ office of NY law firm Falcon & Singer P.C. which has 6 attorneys. My primary focus is corporate/commercial and litigation. I have spent the majority of my career as an in-house counsel, including 20 years as U.S. General Counsel for a European-based manufacturing and engineering group of companies. During that time I was an active leader in professional associations and non-profits. I also spent several very rewarding years as General Counsel, on a pro bono basis, of Arts Horizons, Inc., a 501(c) (3) entity which brought visual and performing arts to underprivileged schools and neighborhoods in the tristate area.  I then vigorously promoted pro bono while I was Executive Director of the Greater NY Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.    Currently I am active with the NY City Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee. While the committee is comprised primarily of “Big Law” attorneys and the pro bono service providers with which they partner, it has been very supportive of efforts on behalf of smaller legal organizations.  Working with organizations engaged in best practices helps identify aspects of small law pro bono which can be optimized.
What kind of pro bono work are you involved in?
I have performed a variety of pro bono roles including mergers of non-profits, general legal work for non-profits, staffing clinics for consumer debt and superstorm Sandy matters.  I also performed litigation on behalf of Sandy victims. Currently I am working on the merger of two substance abuse treatment organizations.Currently my main focus is appearing in court on behalf of domestic violence victims.


Can you share a highlight from a memorable case?
Two highlights come to mind.
While General Counsel of Arts Horizons I attended a performance by children with developmental disabilities all of whom were singing and dancing. What made it memorable (and very moving) was being told by parents and teachers that at the beginning of the school year the majority of the performers were totally non-verbal.
Also, I recently represented the owners of a small condo and had to commence litigation because the condo association had misapplied insurance proceeds for Sandy damage and negotiations were to no avail with the association and its regular counsel. Mold was developing and there was also not enough space for the growing family. The clients could not sell and move to a more appropriate and healthy home until the damage was repaired. We probably could have won a Summary Judgment on liability but based on the actions of the condo board it was clear collecting damages or requiring repairs would be even more time-consuming than the underlying litigation. Luckily a staff attorney with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice became aware of available grant money. By working with insurance defense counsel we were able to resolve the matter and allow the parents and their young children to get on with their lives in in a much safer environment.


Why did you decide to do pro bono volunteer work?
That’s an interesting question.  I cannot imagine NOT volunteering and since I am an attorney, the majority of it is pro bono legal work. Studies have shown that volunteering provides many benefits to the volunteers as well as those being helped.  Quite simply I enjoy the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.


Did you learn any new skills during your experience?
Through most of my career clients have been institutions. Pro Bono work has taught me how to counsel and represent individuals. Also, because of potentially serious consequences for defendants in domestic violence cases they are often heatedly contested. This gives me significant courtroom practice such as addressing evidentiary objections, defending clients under heavy cross-examination and rehabilitating witnesses as needed. Finally, because of the highly charged nature of the cases, I find summations typically require a more nimble approach then litigating on behalf of entities. These challenging closing arguments and the other aspects of such cases help hone skills which are transferable to cases which are more straight-forward. I highly recommend a diverse pro bono practice for all attorneys.


What is your advice to other interested small, solo and medium sized attorneys interested in pro bono work?
First, identify a specific need you would like to address: e.g. immigration, asylum, housing, domestic violence, consumer credit and foreclosures, etc.   Next, find a pro bono service provider which can work directly with attorneys who work as solo practitioners, at small firms, or in a company that lacks access to pro bono coordinators to help with case placement and management and other key elements of pro bono practice. Be realistic about how much time you can devote. Do not over-commit! Larger legal entities can provide back-up but this is one aspect of smaller practice which must be carefully managed so you can truly be of service.    Finally, if you are entering a new substantive area of the law make sure the pro bono service provider provides adequate training and mentoring. For example, after several decades of practice I had never dealt with consumer issues. Before I worked in the Consumer Debt Clinic, the NY Civil Court provided in-depth training and I was fully confident in the assistance I rendered.  Another ideal outlet for small law pro bono is the NY City Bar’s Monday Night Law program which deals with a panoply of issues after providing practitioners with appropriate training.



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Interested in volunteering?  Start searching for pro bono opportunities by interest area (e.g. family, asylum), community served (e.g. domestic violence victims, children) or location right now by using our interactive NY Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!