Pro Bono Cases as an Effective Tool to Provide Junior Attorneys With More Substantive Opportunities

During a Next Generation Lawyers panel that took place earlier this year, federal District Court Judges Alan D Albright (W.D. Tex.) and Jon S. Tigar (N.D. Cal.) emphasized the important role of taking on pro bono matters to gain substantive opportunities as a junior attorney.  Judge Tigar discussed how he became chair of his firm’s pro bono committee when he practiced and how taking on such cases provide invaluable experience for arguing in court as well as client counseling and negotiating with opposing counsel.

Depositions are a critical fact-finding tool and taking depositions effectively is a critical skill for litigation attorneys.  While many firms provide junior attorneys with deposition training, the most effective way to learn how to take a deposition is actually to take one.  Pro bono matters present such an opportunity for qualified junior attorneys to take depositions.

As a first-year associate, I had the rare and rewarding opportunity of being part of a team that brought a pro bono matter to trial, which, adding an extra twist, took place during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The case involved a petition for the return of a child under the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, commonly referred to as the Hague Convention.  For the child’s well-being, this type of matter requires expedited proceedings—preferably a decision on the merits within six weeks of the petition being filed.

While trying a case in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic brought its challenges, it also led to opportunity.  Given the risks associated with in-person depositions, our team switched to remote depositions.  With the encouragement of the partner leading the case, a fellow first-year associate and I were given the opportunity to take remote depositions of witnesses that would be testifying at the scheduled three-day bench trial and were located in Texas while we were in California.

The most rewarding part of this experience was the high level of independence I was given from beginning to end.  This began with scheduling the remote deposition, included drafting the deposition subpoena, reaching out to the witness and counsel to facilitate scheduling, drafting the deposition outline, and then ended with taking the deposition remotely.  I not only had the rewarding experience of taking the deposition, but also learned how to prepare for it both logistically and substantively.  The feedback, guidance, and mentorship the partner and associates provided on the matter greatly supplemented my learning experience.  Lastly, I had the opportunity to read the deposition transcript, and could see where I was effective and where there was room to improve.

Overall, this opportunity showed me the importance of learning by doing and motivated me to seek out more opportunities in the future.  I encourage my fellow junior attorneys to use pro bono matters as an avenue to attain more substantive opportunities as I did through this case.  I also want to say thank you to the partners and senior associates who provide us with these critical learning opportunities that help us excel in our careers and become better advocates.

Written by: Yarden Kakon, Winston & Strawn, September 8, 2020