The personal rewards of doing pro bono work are well documented. So it was no surprise to hear lawyers tell heart-tugging stories about helping childless couples adopt or abused women escape violent relationships at a panel discussion on pro bono work Thursday sponsored by Silicon Valley Campaign for Legal Services.
But pro bono work has its professional benefits, too, said the four attorneys and one state judge who spoke on the panel at Bingham McCutchen in East Palo Alto.
Michael Trinh, an associate litigation counsel at Google Inc., started doing pro bono work for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base as a first-year associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Instead of being stuck doing document review, he was doing meaningful work in areas of the law he hadn’t been exposed to before.
“And it’s had a profound impact on my career development,” Trinh said.
He learned how to think independently and act quickly, whether it was as figuring out the best way to handle a difficult interview or dealing with a thorny legal issue that had no precedent.
“It forces you to really like your job as a lawyer,” he said.
After Trinh joined Google in 2008, he even hired an attorney from Bingham he’d worked with at Guantanamo Bay to handle some work for the search engine. “It was one of those small-world moments,” Trinh said.
Nathaniel Bruno, an associate IP litigator at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, said working on adoptions in courtrooms filled with stuffed animals and toys has been a welcome respite from the day-to-day grind of IP law.
“You can win a summary judgment that may help a client save millions of dollars, and all you might get is a phone call questioning the legal bill,” Bruno said. “But when you work on adoptions, what you get are hugs of gratitude and letters of thanks.”
But the work has also given Bruno a chance to work with Sheppard associates from other departments that he might not have crossed paths with before. “It’s been an incredible opportunity,” he said.