For attorneys who have little time to spare and minimal background in poverty law, pro bono work for Legal Aid clients can seem unrealistic or intimidating. Jesse Branner of Bricker & Eckler is an excellent example of how a large firm associate can incorporate pro bono into her practice while not sacrificing professional development.
Jesse grew up on a farm in Southeastern Ohio, received her undergraduate degree from Ohio University and her JD from Capital University Law School. While participating in Capital’s Legal Clinic, she realized her interest in providing legal service to people who cannot afford it. Jesse then joined Bricker & Eckler as a new associate in their Creditors’ Rights & Bankruptcy group. Her firm immediately encouraged her to volunteer her time with LASC.
As a result of her own motivation bolstered by her firm’s support, Jesse has volunteered for a number of LASC programs, including the annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down legal clinic, the Volunteer Resource Center Consumer Project, and the brief advice clinic at the Run the Race Club—a partnership between Bricker & Eckler, Jones Day and JP Morgan Chase in-house counsel. In total, she donated more than 45 hours—an impressive number considering her demanding schedule.
In addition to building crucial litigation skills, pro bono case representation affords new lawyers access to other members of the larger firms with whom they would not otherwise interact. By co-counseling with more senior attorneys on cases referred by the LASC Volunteer Resource Center, Jesse has been able to use her pro bono cases to “strengthen relationships with partners and other attorneys in the firm.”
To ensure that they are not sacrificing their quality of work or quality of life, new attorneys should be realistic about how much time they can commit: “Give yourself permission to start slow,” Jesse advises. “Brief advice clinics are a great starting point – you show up for a few hours, talk to clients, and leave. This is often issue spotting and directing clients to the appropriate services, and you don’t take any of the clients with you.”
For those attorneys who handle cases referred from LASC, developing one’s own pro bono niche also helps ensure that the undertaking is still manageable. For example, Jesse has taken several consumer cases in a row. “I suggest finding a type of case that you are comfortable with and focusing on those. You become more efficient with representing clients when you understand exactly what the process will look like. Even minimal attorney work can drastically improve a low-income client’s position.” That being said, the client’s issues are both interesting and compelling: “I enjoy the variety of matters, and helping folks resolve an immediate, and usually very serious legal problem.”
Although it is not easy, Jesse’s volunteer responsibilities do not feel like a chore. “Working on my pro bono cases is such a nice change of pace from my normal practice, that it doesn’t always feel like work.”
In the end, volunteering one’s time is about the people you are helping, and helping people feels really good. “Each one of my pro bono clients has been incredibly grateful, and truly appreciates what we are able to accomplish for them,” Jesse reflects. “Even if we don’t arrive at the desired result, they always say thank you and recognize our effort.”
LASC would like to thank Jesse for her efforts and her continued commitment to use her valuable skills and time to help people in need to access the legal system.
For more information on how you can volunteer, visit our Get Involved section.