Why Is Pro Bono Work So Important?

Most big law firms offer a limited number of financially strapped clients some sort of pro bono options. Why? The most politically correct answer is simple enough: it’s all about helping the people who need help the most! But there’s more to it than that. For prestigious law firms, it’s a way for junior associates to test the waters with a lower-profile — and less important — case before working their way up to something more important. We say that with respect.

Washington D.C. associate Sonja Sahlsten said, “I recall sitting on the courtroom’s benches during my first in-person hearing and anxiously searching the internet for: ‘Which side to Plaintiffs stand in a Courtroom?’ Although green at first, by the end of the case I learned exactly where to go and what to say and, on occasion, could draw a confirmatory smile from the presiding judge.”

It’s these pro bono cases that provide a starting point for lawyers who will someday think they know it all. Everyone starts somewhere. And lawyers are just people, too. Many of us don’t recognize or remember that fact.

Associate Pejmon Pashai agrees. He said, “At first, I was apprehensive about stepping outside of my legal ‘comfort zone’ and taking point on a case that could drastically affect my client’s quality of life. Being the primary problem solver in a case is not my typical role as junior associate. But I knew that my client was counting on me and that I had to deliver, which meant taking the frantic phone calls on a Sunday night when my client’s laundry room nearly caught fire.”

The system is akin to what you might expect in any other profession where the smallest mistake can affect the outcome. That person who cuts your hair? Once upon a time, they were offering all their friends and family members haircuts. That dentist you love? Way back when, they were in school providing dental work to clients free of charge. And those clients knew what could go wrong. The law works the same way!

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