Pro Bono as a Prelude to Public Service

The New York Law Journal recently ran an interview with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman that caught our attention.  When asked about the “roots” of his interest in public service, he circled back to his pro bono experiences while in private practice.  Schneiderman recalled that he was “completely absorbed” in pro bono work when he was at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, now K&L Gates*†  working on, among other things, opposing public transit fare increases as a matter of civil rights, assisting eligible community groups and block associations that were fighting drug dealers in their midst, and assisting womens’ health clinics and their defenders.

This got us thinking – what other prominent figures came to their positions with a history of significant pro bono involvement?  To highlight but a few current examples:

  • U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while in private practice, spent a notable portion of her early career taking on pro bono work in child advocacy cases.   In 1977, President Carter appointed Hillary Clinton to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation.  She was the first woman to serve as a Chairperson and during her time there she worked tirelessly to increase funding.  Hillary also co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, an organization ensuring that all children and their families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives.
  • PBI’s dear friend, U.S Attorney General Eric Holder routinely performed a significant amount of pro bono work annually when he was a partner at Covington & Burling LLP*†.   In his current role, Mr. Holder has worked to broaden the participation of government lawyers in pro bono and has guided the Department of Justice to make a commitment to expand and ensure access to legal services.  In 2010, the Department launched the Access to Justice Initiative, a program aimed to address the access-to-justice crisis in the criminal and civil justice system.
  • Chief Justice John Roberts performed a significant amount of pro bono work while at Hogan & Hartson, now Hogan Lovells*†, including briefing and arguing matters before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. came to his position with an impressive pro bono track record.  Reflecting on his time at Jenner & Block LLP*†, Verrilli recently recalled that a high-profile pro bono case “was, to me, the most enriching work I’ve ever done, probably ever will.”  He strongly urged young lawyers to take on pro bono work saying, “Being a lawyer has almost inherently a very important public service component built into it”.

Do you have additions to our pro bono public servant honor roll?  Leave a comment and let us know.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project