Types of Pro Bono Cases in BigLaw

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big_willy_style_333

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Types of Pro Bono Cases in BigLaw

Postby big_willy_style_333 » Tue Dec 13, 2016 6:29 pm

Maybe this is a dumb question, but I'm curious as to what kind of pro bono cases biglaw Associates usually get to work on. Are they generally related to the kind of law you practice day to day, or are they totally different? For instance, if you work in commercial lit, are you able to work on pro bono crim cases? How do you find pro bono cases? If they are assigned to you, do you get to make your preferences known? Also, I recognize that the process may be different across firms, but even anecdotal information would be helpful.

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Re: Types of Pro Bono Cases in BigLaw

Postby nealric » Tue Dec 13, 2016 6:48 pm

big_willy_style_333 wrote:Maybe this is a dumb question, but I'm curious as to what kind of pro bono cases biglaw Associates usually get to work on. Are they generally related to the kind of law you practice day to day, or are they totally different? For instance, if you work in commercial lit, are you able to work on pro bono crim cases? How do you find pro bono cases? If they are assigned to you, do you get to make your preferences known? Also, I recognize that the process may be different across firms, but even anecdotal information would be helpful.


It usually has some relation to your practice area. Corporate associates do corporate work, litigators work on cases. Criminal trial work is rare, although some firms will take on things like death penalty appeals.

In my experience, pro bono is usually some partner's pet project. If they are on the board of an art museum, pro bono may be doing random legal work for the museum. If they are really into [insert cause], they may ask you to help on a case relating to it. I've seen associates roped into doing work for some partner's undergrad football team. If you have specialized expertise like tax, you may be roped into giving advice to every single partner's pet non-profit project.

Some firms have centralized pro bono practices. In that case, you will work on whatever will fit best into the firm's web presence/brochure after it has cleared some committee that is really a subcommittee of the firm's PR wing. The pro bono partner will inevitably knock on your door at 5 minutes before a conference call when you have a deal closing or trial next week. First years tend to be loaded up on it, after that most associates run screaming from it.

Once in a blue moon, some associate will take on a project that truly serves the poor or does some good in the world. That associate will usually be publicly lauded, but privately punished for their hard work. If you can't tell, I'm just a bit cynical about biglaw pro bono.

tomwatts

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Re: Types of Pro Bono Cases in BigLaw

Postby tomwatts » Tue Dec 13, 2016 9:02 pm

In transactional practice, pro bono is often helping a nonprofit somehow. This sounds excruciatingly boring to me, but then, so does all of transactional practice.

In litigation, pro bono is usually against the government, often defensive (criminal, immigration) but sometimes offensive (constitutional/civil rights issues, etc.). One of the key restrictions is that it has to be work that the paying clients would approve of (so generally not, say, an environmental case or a consumer class action). In practice, this is more restrictive than it sounds; for example, even some FOIA cases are off-limits because corporate clients don't want information about their interactions with the government disclosed.

Topics vary a lot by firm — where I summered, I got assigned more than one immigration case because they did a bunch of those. Also, some firms really do a significant amount of pro bono, and some do not. The ones that do a significant amount of pro bono often do it in order to get associates practical experience as the lead of something (e.g., giving an associate an argument in a federal appeals court), so that can be kind of cool, and occasionally the topics are particularly interesting (e.g., voting rights). But often firms talk about pro bono and don't actually do it, so it's worth finding out, one way or another, if this is a thing they really devote resources to.

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First Offense

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Re: Types of Pro Bono Cases in BigLaw

Postby First Offense » Wed Dec 14, 2016 10:31 am

Just to give a litigation perspective - my firm has a centralized pro bono thing and the first thing I got put on was a 1983 case. It's awesome and I'm getting some awesome experience. Most of the work is being done by 4th-5th years (as in the heavy lifting of complex litigation) with a partner that is just providing some general guidance.

We also do a lot of immigration work here, a lot of landlord/tenant disputes and some work with the area public defenders offices. I know one guy - a fifth year - that is the lead on a murder trial. We also do a lot of constitutional stuff and apparently will be picking up our voting rights advocacy in light of the Trump win.

Varies firm to firm, but some do really cool work.

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big_willy_style_333

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Re: Types of Pro Bono Cases in BigLaw

Postby big_willy_style_333 » Wed Dec 14, 2016 12:41 pm

All really helpful, thanks!



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