Do pro bono work because you care, Bondurant tells UGA law students
3:01 pm, March 4th, 2013
Emmet Bondurant of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore told students and attorneys at the University of Georgia Law School Saturday that they should do pro bono work because they care, not because their firms require it or provide them with a pro bono partner to facilitate the effort.
“You ought to be seeking out those opportunities for yourself. You don’t need a pro bono partner to say you have to do it,” Bondurant told an auditorium full of students and lawyers at the 8th annual Working in the Public Interest conference at UGA law school.
Bondurant spoke during a program titled “A higher calling: the importance of pro bono efforts in the legal profession.” Sitting beside Bondurant on the panel was Mary Benton, Alston & Bird’s pro bono partner. Also on the panel: Cynthia Adcock, constitutional law professor at the Charlotte School of Law; Lonnie Brown, UGA legal ethics professor; Andrew Vail, partner with Jenner & Block in Chicago.
“If it’s something you care about, do it,” Bondurant said. He noted his own firm is smaller and doesn’t have a pro bono department. “When young lawyers come into a firm there ought to be a presumption that they’re adults. They shouldn’t be handed something on a platter for their own interests,” he said. But he told the group young lawyers can “do well by doing good.”
Bondurant talked about his own pro bono work, starting in the early 1960s – soon after his 1959 graduation from UGA law – when he took on the loyalty oaths being required by the state in the anti-Communist paranoia of the times. And he mentioned a recent cause, representing Guantanamo detainees being held indefinitely without charges filed.
“There are some pragmatic reasons,” Bondurant said. Pro bono work can allow a young lawyer to rapidly gain experience that will make them more valuable to paying clients later. For example, he said, as a young associate at Kilpatrick he took court appointed cases of Atlanta Federal Penitentiary inmates challenging their convictions. “I got to write briefs when many partners in the firm had never argued a case in the Court of Appeals,” he said.
“There are a lot of opportunities,” Bondurant said. “You can do a lot of things if you’re creative and willing to make the effort. But is it easy? No. You may not be able to play golf on Saturday afternoon. You may not be able to watch NFL on Sunday. There are ways you can get experience vastly earlier, good experience, that then is marketable financially but also fulfilling personally.”
In making his case for pro bono work, Bondurant emphasized the personal fulfillment and the professional responsibility. “You are in one of the rare professions where you get paid for doing things that are fun,” Bondurant said. “And we get paid outrageously for it.”
Tweets (from @KatherynHTucker) of quotes from Bondurant Saturday were answered with both argument and agreement.
“It’s just too easy for well established lawyer to say that. He doesn’t have to repay student loans,” tweeted Bret Moore (@bretsmore), solo personal injury lawyer, graduate of Georgia State University Law School and member of the bar since 2008.
In other tweets, Moore said he agreed that pro bono work can provide valuable experience, but noted that lawyers today are working in a “much different climate.”
The University of South Carolina Law School (@UofSCLaw) responded to the Bondurant quote that lawyers should do pro bono work because they care, not because they’re required, with this: “We agree, which is why we were the first law school in the U.S. with a 100 percent voluntary pro bono program.” (@USCLawProBono)