Top 5 Reasons to Become a Pro Bono Lawyer with Children’s Law Center
It’s a fact: There aren’t enough hours in the day for Children’s Law Center’s nearly 100-person staff of lawyers, social workers and investigators to assist each child and family in DC that needs a lawyer. That’s why, for the past 20 years, Children’s Law Center has partnered with lawyers within the government, corporate in-house counsel and DC’s top law firms.
Today that network has grown to more than 500 pro bono lawyers who help us advocate so that every DC child can grow up with a loving family, good health and a quality education. With the help of pro bono support, Children’s Law Center is able to reach 5,000 children and families a year. But our pro bono lawyers don’t go it alone. While they give back to their communities in a big way, Children’s Law Center provides an array of support and resources to ensure their success.
While many of the pro bono lawyers we work with are legal experts in everything from mergers and acquisitions to intellectual property, they also care deeply about making the District safe for all children. Through a variety of resources and personal mentoring, Children’s Law Center empowers lawyers who may spend the majority of their time practicing, say, tax law, and become adept family law attorneys who can powerfully fight for our client’s best interest. Here are the top five reasons you, or someone you know, should volunteer to become a pro bono attorney with us:
1. Training and Resources: Children’s Law Center provides easy-to-access, high-quality training that ensures that volunteer lawyers of any expertise have what they need to navigate family law. Throughout the year, Children’s Law Center offers free in-person trainings for each of the case types our pro bono lawyers take on, from Housing Conditions and Special Education to Custody Guardian ad litem and caregiver cases. The trainings, personally led by seasoned CLC attorneys, provide an opportunity for current and potential pro bono lawyers to gain experience on the nuances of handling these cases. Children’s Law Center also regularly invites outside experts, such as pediatricians and family court judges to provide specific insight as it applies to our work.
Attendees leave trainings with new tools to use in their practice and insights into navigating the areas of law Children’s Law Center works within.
To bolster our trainings, Children’s Law Center provides a wealth of online resources including online trainings, videos, model pleadings, practice kits and more.
2. Mentoring: Regardless of experience, most pro bono lawyers are paired with a Children’s Law Center lawyer who is an expert in that particular case type. Having an experienced mentor offers pro bono attorneys an opportunity to strategize with an expert, ensure a positive volunteering experience and leads to better outcomes for kids and families.
Upon retiring, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP partner John O’Neill wanted to give back. And though he had 40 years of experience in law, Custody Guardian Ad litem cases were new to him.
During a training, O’Neill says he was immediately impressed with Children’s Law Center lawyer Diane Weinroth.
“She’d been around the block,“ said O’Neill.
When he was given his first pro bono case he was glad to see she’d been assigned as his mentor.
As his representation of a young boy got underway, bureaucracy complicated O’Neill’s attempts to get a home study to evaluate the child’s potentially unsafe living arrangements. Weinroth worked with O’Neill on how to navigate the system and successfully obtained the study, which played a critical role in getting the right outcome for the child.
“It was fun and it was practical. Diane understood the ins and outs of the court and it processes, so I executed on her advice. [The home study] helped the court understand what was in the best interest of the child.”
3. Regular updates: Children’s Law Center makes it easy to stay informed. With biweekly emails about our pro bono program and available cases, upcoming trainings and powerful stories about the lives of the DC kids and families we serve, pro bono lawyers stay in the know.
Our Pro Bono Listserv contains an extensive list of available cases for prospective pro bono lawyers, separated by case type and experience level. Interested in taking on a special education case but don’t have much experience? Look for a case marked “beginner.” Seeking a more complex case? Then a case marked “Advanced” might be for you.
The Pro Bono Listserv is also an opportunity to hear directly from Pro Bono Director Jen Masi, review the latest training opportunities and celebrate lawyers and firms for their amazing contributions in our Pro Bono Shoutout section.
“We want to honor the work being done and express our gratitude for pro bono lawyers stepping in and providing a lawyer for families in need in the District,” says Masi.
4. Thorough vetting when matching cases: When pairing pro bono lawyers with cases, Masi doesn’t let any detail go unevaluated. By factoring the lawyer’s interests and experience along with the individual needs of the child or family, she orchestrates a team designed with the best outcomes in mind.
Masi says this sometimes involves recommending co-counseling and offering a closer mentorship on our most challenging cases.
“The pro bono attorney is ultimately getting the support he or she needs to handle the case and the client, our top priority, gets the representation he or she needs in their legal matter,” says Masi.
5. Giving back to the community: Without top notch legal advice, many vulnerable DC kids and families can’t maneuver through the legal labyrinth to ensure safe housing conditions, proper special education supports or resolve complicated custody disputes. Simply put, Children’s Law Center’s pro bono lawyers change lives. And that can often be its own reward.
Mathew J. Holt of Latham & Watkins LLP is a prime example. He took on a case of a father trying to regain custody of his son, and with the help of his Children’s Law Center mentor Holt created a legal strategy that reunited the family.
“If this was the only case I ever handled, the whole process of getting my law degree would be worth it. I changed someone’s life.”
Last year, pro bono lawyers transformed the lives of hundreds of children and families while also gaining valuable experience. More than half said the experience improved their client counseling, negotiation and litigation skills.
And while trainings, improved skills and networking can be the name of the game in DC, sometimes it all comes down to this: Many of our pro bono lawyers report working with Children’s Law Center resulted in their first hug from a client.