Summer 2017 Volunteer Profile-- Noam Biale
The NYC Pro Bono Center would like to thank the NYC Bar Committee for Pro Bono Outside Big Law for sharing this volunteer feature on Noam Biale, associate and pro bono coordinator at Sher Tremonte LLP.
For more information on small firm and solo attorney pro bono work, please check out our Pro Bono Outside Big Law Gateway.
What is your title, practice area, and approximately how many lawyers work for Sher Tremonte?
I am an associate and Pro Bono Coordinator at Sher Tremonte LLP. We are a firm of 15 lawyers, including 6 partners and 9 counsel and associates. My practice focuses primarily on criminal defense, appellate advocacy, and complex civil litigation – as well as managing the firm’s pro bono docket, which is quite sizeable for a small firm.
Can you talk about the kinds of pro bono that you’ve done at Sher Tremonte?
Our pro bono docket is varied. We are working with non-profit partners on the front lines of protecting refugees and immigrants. That effort has included successfully obtaining asylum for a Syrian doctor who was persecuted by the Assad Regime, representing undocumented immigrant youth who are eligible to apply for legal status in the US, and participating in the legal effort to resist the Trump Administration’s travel ban at JFK International Airport. We have also been appointed in high profile pro bono matters at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, including representing a woman seeking to expunge her decades-old criminal record and a state prisoner who was thrown in solitary confinement for refusing to become an informant. The latter case raises constitutional questions that the court has previously avoided deciding, but has indicated it is now prepared to resolve. We have also represented individuals who cannot afford lawyers in litigation in both the Southern and Eastern Districts.
Given that you work for a smaller firm, which undoubtedly lacks some of the resources that larger firms have to be able to do pro bono, how have you and your firm worked through those challenges? (Some examples are staffing, covering costs of litigation and other costs associated with pro bono matters that cannot be covered by the indigent, time management and balancing pro bono with billable workloads, lack of expertise in the area of law involved, training, mentoring, etc.)
Though we are a small firm, the commitment of all our lawyers to the public interest is large. As a result, we take on pro bono matters where the attorneys are eager to roll up their sleeves and do the work for the client. We don’t have armies of associates we can put on these cases, so each case is handled by a partner and one or two associates – just as we would handle any other matter. With respect to developing expertise, we attend trainings put on by non-profit partners and work closely with those partners whenever we feel that their expertise will help advance our work. Of course, doing pro bono work does impose costs on the firm in terms of costs and expenses that cannot be covered by the client and attorney time. This is true for us especially, since in addition to our pro bono work we also have a very active docket of CJA cases where two of our partners are appointed by the court to represent indigent criminal defendants. But we feel that the benefits – to the public good and to our attorneys, in terms of getting into court and building up associate experience – outweigh the costs.
In your opinion, has pro bono work benefited your practice or the practice of other lawyers in your firm, in terms of skills or attorney development?
Pro bono work has benefited my practice tremendously. My first appellate argument was before the Second Circuit in a pro bono case. I have also appeared in district courts and have taken and defended numerous depositions in pro bono matters. Our other associates have similarly developed important skills working on these cases. These days, it can take way too long for young lawyers to get experience working directly with clients, going to court, and really taking ownership over a case. The small firm model – and especially a small firm with a strong pro bono commitment – allows for the development of those skills in a way that I think is unparalleled in private law.
What do you think small firm lawyers’ the biggest misconception is about pro bono work?
There is an understandable but wrongheaded view that small firms do not have the luxury of having a robust pro bono practice. I think Sher Tremonte’s model is proving that the dividends it pays for professional development are well worth the sacrifices.
Are there any areas of practice that you would recommend for a small law firm lawyer or solo practitioner?
There is a huge need for representation of immigrants in many different areas. While immigration law is exceedingly complex, there are amazing resources among the non-profits in New York City that can help you master it. The Southern and Eastern Districts also have limited scope representation opportunities through their pro se offices, which are a great way to help out in a federal case without taking on the full representation. Finally, we have one pro bono case where we’ve partnered with a big firm, so that is another option for getting involved despite having fewer resources.
How would you recommend that solo practitioners or small firm lawyers go to find pro bono opportunities?
There is no shortage of folks in our community who need legal assistance but cannot afford it. Getting involved in the pro bono committee of a local bar association is a great way to get opportunities. I have been lucky enough to be a member of the Federal Bar Council’s Public Service Committee, which is a terrific group of pro bono practitioners from firms big and small. The pro se offices in both districts are also a great way to get pro bono opportunities in federal court. Finally, I recommend letting the judges you appear before know that you are willing to take on work pro bono. Every judge has a case where he or she wishes that a pro se party had competent counsel. Just let them know you are open for business – you will generate opportunities (and gratitude) in cases that the judge thinks are interesting or meritorious enough to warrant the appointment of counsel.
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