The ability to do pro bono work early in my career was an important factor in deciding which law firm to join. But with Latham & Watkins, something even more important stood out—the attitude. Not only are people outgoing, sociable and enthusiastic here, but they also respect the importance of pro bono work both to our pro bono clients and as part of our responsibility as lawyers. I’ve never seen a partner blink when I’ve asked to reschedule a call or a meeting because of a timing conflict with a pro bono case. Supervisors are very hands on, doing whatever they can to help ensure success. And the firm counts my pro bono hours the same as time billed to commercial clients.
Pro bono at Latham provides tremendous opportunities for growth, development and leadership. Associates can pursue pro bono matters of interest to them, based on language skills, for example, or choose from an array of established pro bono programs, ensuring they can find cases that are meaningful to them. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time on asylum work. I was fortunate enough to be born in a country that protects its citizens from persecution based on politics, religion, gender or ethnicity, so it’s great to be able to help ensure that others have the same fundamental rights as I have. In fact, after working on several individual asylum matters, I now serve as co-chair of the entire Asylum Program for the New York office, which handles 20 to 25 matters a year.
In one of my most memorable cases, we won asylum for a young Haitian musician. A political rap song by his group had been getting some airplay, and as the group’s front man, this teenager was harassed, assaulted and even kidnapped by rogue policemen. He made his way to the United States, where he sought political asylum. We spent months working with our client to document and adequately present his story. The judge was so impressed with the thoroughness of our application that she barely had any questions during our client’s asylum hearing. Our client was granted asylum, the ability to live free from fear and violence. Years later, we’re still in touch and he’s doing great—he works in the IT industry and helps other recent immigrants learn English.
Knowing that my pro bono clients are thriving and on their way to becoming, or have already become, legal permanent residents, gives me great personal satisfaction, but my pro bono experience has also helped me develop as a lawyer. Co-chairing the Asylum Program and handling individual asylum matters from start to finish have tremendously strengthened my abilities as a leader, case manager and litigator. I regularly organize training sessions and staff cases, matching associates to supervising partners. I know now that I can run an entire merits hearing in immigration court because I’ve already done so. I’m comfortable explaining the United States legal system in non-legalese to any type of client, from an asylum seeker fleeing danger and harassment to a European businessman seeking representation on an international litigation. Pro bono has been a huge confidence builder for me. It’s improved my ability to talk to judges, write briefs, conduct interviews, examine witnesses and win cases. The many worthwhile pro bono experiences I have had at Latham support my development as a lawyer—and help my clients change their lives.