Pro Bono: The Real Work Summer Associates Do

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By Melissa Heelan Stanzione

The summer associate experience at large law firms is known for long lunches and memos that never see the light of day. But pro bono matters provide something of substance for these future attorneys to cut their teeth on.

The challenge for law firms is to give the “summers,” who have limited time and experience, something meaningful to do while they’re at the firm, Anthony Perez Cassino, assistant director of public service at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, New York, told Bloomberg BNA.

Milbank has multiple programs for summer associates, ranging from working on a study on the death penalty to helping with transgender name changes.

Pro bono work isn’t required of summer associates at Milbank, but all 72 members of its 2017 class have requested to work on a pro bono matter and “they expect to do it,” Cassino said.

The Programs

Milbank designs five types of matters specifically for summer associates, or they can join an existing case.

For a lot of client interaction, associates can work on uncontested divorces for Her Justice, a group that serves poor and abused women, Cassino said.

What’s particularly satisfying about this work is that about half of it gets wrapped up during their summer with the firm so that associates can actually see a job to its conclusion, he said.

Milbank also partners with Sanctuary for Families, which offers associates the chance to go to court through its Courtroom Advocates Project, which helps women file orders of protection.

Another project that summer associates can see to the end involves helping transgender people going through a transition to change their names to make their legal identities match their lived experience.

Summer associates work with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. on The Name Change Project, which provides free legal name change services to low-income transgender people.

The work involves court appearances and is “a great opportunity to help someone who is going through a transition,” Cassino said.

A very popular pro bono program at Milbank involves working on Special Immigrant Juveniles matters with The Door. Cassino said there’s a lot of interest in immigration work right now, perhaps “because of what’s happening in the news,” he said.

The SIJ program helps juveniles who have been abused or abandoned to get their green card.

The summer associates meet with these children and get their stories, then go to family court to get a guardian appointed for them, Cassino said.

But this summer’s most popular program is the Amicus death penalty project, he said.

Amicus is an international group that helps provide representation for those facing the death penalty in the U.S.

This year, the summer associates will work on a study about sentencing methods used in capital cases in Missouri, Cassino said.

The work involves a lot of data organization and gives the associates the chance to work across offices with attorneys in Los Angeles, New York and London, he said.

Challenges, Rewards

The summer associate pro bono programs are carefully selected and have to meet a number of requirements, which can be a challenge, Cassino said.

Summer associates don’t have a wealth of experience so they need work they can actually handle, he said.

Furthermore, it should be work they “can make inroads” with, so they feel they’ve accomplished something.

And finally, they need training.

The groups Milbank works with provide that training, which lasts between two hours and one day, depending on the matter, Cassino said.

They also—along with Milbank attorneys working on the case—supervise the summer associates.

And then the associates “run with it,” he said.

“We tell them it’s their client and their matter, which can be an empowering experience,” Cassino said.

Many summer associates have told Cassino that it was the highlight of their summer experience and Cassino believes this is because they know the program is “real.”

It closely resembles the type of experience they will have when they join us after law school, and they value that, he said.

“We don’t want to just give them some busy work but want them to experience the benefits of actually helping a client with a legal need,” Cassino said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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