I am a dyed-in-the-wool legal aid lawyer. Of my 14 years practicing law, I spent only one year in private practice. And although I appreciate to this day many of the skills I gained, I scurried back to legal aid faster than you can say “pay cut.” I love it all--the challenges, the many underdog days, and the deep satisfaction found from helping others in need. I am humbled by my colleagues and their dedication and even more humbled by my clients and their willingness to stand up for what is right.
Over the last six years, my poverty law practice has evolved. As the cases we have taken on got bigger and more complex, so too did the challenges of bringing and financing this litigation. Partnering with law firms enabled us to advance our advocacy agenda without the worry over costs that frequently accompany litigation. Those pro bono partnerships also enabled us to be better lawyers and advocates as we worked alongside seasoned and exceptionally skilled lawyers.
The Shriver Center’s experience with the Chicago, Illinois, office of Reed Smith is a great example of a successful pro bono partnership. Reed Smith attorneys have worked with us on three major housing and civil rights cases. By working together to build each case and share responsibilities, we were able to accomplish a lot of good and advance social justice along the way.
But we also had a lot of fun. I only hope that Reed Smith found as much joy working on these cases as we did: when a group of clients, well into their 80s and 90s, protested at the offices of one of the potential defendants and forced from them an on-the-spot apology; when the federal law changed (to our clients’ benefit) on the eve of a Seventh Circuit brief being due; and when we got to tell a client that their actions not only changed the law but helped thousands of people like them.
That is the joy of law and of helping people in need that you do not soon forget. Our many thanks to the pro bono attorneys at Reed Smith for their partnership, and to all of the law firms and lawyers who rise to this important challenge.