Is your career based on considered choices you planned or has it unfolded as part of a process you didn’t necessarily foresee?
The latter. While I always wanted to use my legal training to help people who couldn’t afford representation, I did not have a clear idea of how I was going to do that. I also knew fairly early on that being a pro bono counsel in a firm was something I would be interested in doing, but all of my career choices seemed like a good idea at the time, rather than choices that would lead to a specific job.
What do you enjoy most (and, if you’re willing, what are the least enjoyable or hardest parts) about your current role?
I love being able to use all of the resources of a really great firm to help people who can’t afford any lawyer, let alone a top-flight lawyer. We have made a difference in so many people’s lives, and being a part of that effort is immensely gratifying. On the minus side, there is a fair amount of administrative work involved in the job. Once someone asks us to take a matter, we figure out if it’s something we want to do and whether there is someone able to do it, and then we have to navigate conflicts and get an engagement letter signed before opening the matter. The job also requires keeping track of all matters and ensuring that if someone leaves, someone takes their place. But the great parts of the job definitely outweigh any downside.
What skills and personality traits lend themselves to success in your field?
I think that my combination of experiences was very helpful to getting to where I am now. I had significant litigation experience and substantive expertise in civil rights, and I had clerked, worked in a big firm, worked in a plaintiffs’ civil rights firm, worked at DOJ, taught at a law school, and worked at a nonprofit legal services organization. All of these jobs were great background for what I do now.
As far as particular traits are concerned, I am pretty social and, I think, empathetic, and I like dealing with people and figuring out how to match lawyers with pro bono projects that appeal to them. Because I have known a lot of people over the years, I know who the experts are who can give good advice, so even if my knowledge of certain issues is limited, I am an expert on finding experts.
I also know how much it means to people to be appreciated and recognized for their pro bono work, so I make a big point of recognizing the pro bono work our lawyers do, even if they end up not winning a case. Ability to communicate is also terribly important, and my time teaching law students helped me learn how to say things so that people hear me, and also helped me sharpen my writing skills. I spend a fair amount of time reviewing associates’ written work, and my ability to edit and articulate why I edited something are very useful attributes in this job.
What advice do you have for someone who hopes to find a job similar to yours/in your field?
I think that having worked in a private firm, in government, and in a legal services nonprofit gave me pretty good insight into how those worlds operate. My experiences were broad enough to allow me to be comfortable in any number of settings, and to understand how problems get solved here in Washington. I think that to the extent you can get a wide variety of experiences, all the while ensuring that there’s some public interest aspect to most or all of them (for example, by doing a fair amount of pro bono work at a firm), it will help get you this type of job.
What has been the best surprise in your career?
That everything I did, which I just thought were good ideas at the time, helped me get the job I have now.
What might you do differently, in hindsight?
I really do not have many regrets. There were a few occasions on which I wish I had put myself out more and worked a little harder, but I think that overall, everything worked out well for me. I would not take back any of the major decisions I made.
What do you do outside of work that helps you be successful?
I am on the boards of two organizations (one that mentors and advocates for kids getting out of detention) and I also serve on the DC Access to Justice Commission and the DC Circuit Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Pro Bono. I read pretty widely, which usually gives me something to talk to people about, and I’m a big fan of NPR and the Newshour, so I know what’s going on in the world.