Miami Law hosted a special "Pro Bono and Public Interest Law" panel discussion on Wednesday, October 26, to discuss the benefits of pursuing public interest and pro bono legal opportunities, and to examine the challenges attorneys face in pursuing such work. The discussion was co-sponsored by the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, the Center for Ethics and Public Service, and the Career Development Office.
Moderated by Myles Cochran, director of domestic public interest programs at Miami Law, the panelists included Mark Brown, Esq., a senior attorney with the Dade County Bar Association Legal Aid Society; D. Porpoise Evans, Esq., a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig; Jeffrey Hearne, Esq., the Advocacy Director at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. and the Director of Miami Law's Tenants' Rights Clinic; the Honorable Judge Vance E. Salter of the Florida Third District Court of Appeal; and Angela Vigil, Esq., the Director of Pro Bono and Community Service at Baker & McKenzie.
While the event focused on the benefits and logistics of pursuing a career in public interest and pro bono work, it also served to remind students that current economic realities continue to make public interest and pro bono opportunities in very high demand and extremely competitive. As a result, public interest employers are looking beyond a candidate's grades and legal journal and/or moot court experiences. What employers are looking for, suggests Cochran, is a "demonstrated commitment [to public interest and pro bono work] from the moment you step on campus."
To demonstrate that commitment, the panelists urged students to take advantage of the wide array of practical public interest and pro bono opportunities available at Miami Law—whether through the Litigation Skills program, any number of Miami Law's clinical offerings, or independent public interest and pro bono internships.
Hearne stressed the importance of pursuing clinical opportunities as law students. More than providing a chance for students to pursue pro bono efforts while in law school, Hearne believes clinics expose students to the reality of what it might be like to earn a living as a public interest attorney.
Similarly, Judge Salter extolled the benefits of clinical experience. For him, it was his experiences in a consumer rights' clinic that projected him on a path towards a career in public interest—a career path that ultimately helped him secure his position on the bench. Salter contrasted his clinical experience with what he was reading and learning about in his casebooks and found the difference to be "striking." Specifically, the ability to interact with clients and getting out and seeing real people with real legal issues stood out most to Judge Salter when reflecting about his clinical experiences.
Another point that the panelists stressed was that the commitment to public interest and pro bono efforts is not something that can be instilled top-down.
"If it is in your soul, you do [pro bono work] and you find the time," said Evans. His experience at Greenberg Traurig has taught him that opportunities to do pro bono work are always going to be there for new associates at private firms. "But no one above you will encourage you [pursue such opportunities]," says Evans. "You'll need to seek it out yourself."
For attorneys at Baker & McKenzie, there is an expectation to do pro bono work, explained Vigil. "If you don't do pro bono work, you get a visit from me." That is not to suggest that attorneys who do not pursue pro bono work are penalized, rather, those attorneys who do pursue such work receive encouragement and praise.
Ultimately, attorneys have to recognize that public interest and pro bono efforts truly are about achieving a greater good.
"You're doing this not for a bonus, nor for the thank you at the end," said Evans. "Most of what you're doing is because it is the right thing to do."