Pro bono work can still make people whole
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
- Organization: Washington Examiner
A DC law organization recently held an event that honors those who have worked tirelessly at making residents of the District of Columbia whole through the legal system.
On Tuesday, December 4th, the Washington Council of Lawyers (WCL) met at Arnold & Porter LLP to highlight people committed to public service. The Outstanding Government Pro Bono Service Award was awarded to Edward Eliasberg, U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division; the Law Firm Award was presented to SNR Denton LLP, and the Presidents' Award was presented to James Sandman.
Sandman,who devoted thirty years to Arnold & Porter, took time out to answer a few brief questions.
How does it feel to receive an award from the Washington Council of Lawyers?
It's a great honor to receive an award from people you respect and admire, and who's values you aspire to apply to your day-to-day life, and that's what the Washington Council of lawyers is all about. It's an organization that lives the highest values of the legal profession, and including providing legal representation for those who might otherwise not be able to hire an attorney on their own. To have an award by a group like this is totally extraordinary.
Why is pro-bono work important?
Pro bono work is important because our legal system does not work well for some people who don't have lawyers, and many people can't afford one. If you try to go to court on your own, or try to fight off a wrongful eviction - a foreclosure, or fight a misguided effort of having your children taken away from you from a custody dispute - you'd have a difficult time doing it on your own without legal assistance. Our legal system was built partly by lawyers, for lawyers; its built on the assumption that you have a lawyer. And if you don't much of the time it doesn't function the way it should. So if we are going to be true to our national commitment of justice for all, then lawyers have to be a part of making that happen.
Is there any way that you see what you and those who are committed to pro bono work being an asset to the District of Columbia?
Yes. I think having a justice system that works well here is important to having a high functioning city, and people who realize the rights that they have under law. You know, we have a lot of laws on the books in the District of Columbia, and they are created to offer rights and protections for people. In a disordered society those rights don't mean anything because people don't have a meaningful and right way to enforce them [the rights]. If we have something like that, then the intended way that our nation has established government to be will not be achieved.
Is there any one particular case that stands out to you more than others?
Yes. Before I left private practice here at Arnold & Porter my last pro bono case that I handled was a domestic violence case, which involved a woman who was beaten by her former husband. She had lost the case in a trial court in the District of Columbia, and we handled the case for her in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. She came to us as someone who was very disappointed in the legal system - she didn't think the court understood her case. We took it on and had oral arguments before three judges in DC Court of Appeals. Afterwards I was so proud; I felt that I had never seen our judicial system work better, because everyone of those those judges had studied the brief so carefully and closely before oral arguments. They asked questions that showed that they had read carefully, and we walked out the courtroom after the arguments not knowing the outcome. My client turned to me and said that she was so glad that they listened...she really felt like they listened to her, and thirty days later, which is relatively quick for an appeal decision, we learned that we won the case.
Any advice you have for those considering pro bono work, or those just entering the field?
I just want to emphasize the importance of doing pro bono work. it's your obligation as a lawyer. You have a license, you're give a right to practice law and it comes with some obligations. Among them is an obligation to provide legal assistance for those who cannot afford to pay. But what I also tell people is that you don't need to do it just because of obligation, it is also a great source of personal satisfaction knowing that you are working to make someone whole again. More people should use their professional skills for the good of helping someone else. Most of all, I encourage people to find the pro bono case that you care about.