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Brooklyn Bar Association gives attorneys tips on working for free

October 18, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sidney Cherubin, director of legal services at the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) hosted a Continuing Legal Education discussion on how lawyers can not only make it as a pro bono attorney, but also how they can thrive even in a legal climate that leaves most with huge debts coming out of law school.

The panel discussion, titled “How to Survive and Thrive as Pro Bono Counsel: Avoiding Pitfalls and Managing the Collateral Impact on Lawyer Well-Being,” was held in Brooklyn Heights on Tuesday. Justice Elizabeth S. Stong, who sits in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York, introduced the presenters including Sidney Cherubin, John R. Urban and Randi Anderson.

So how do lawyers survive and thrive while working for free? In one word, “carefully,” said Sidney Cherubin, director of legal services at the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP).

Cherubin explained that the best way he sees for attorneys who are looking to give back is by joining with a legal services or a nonprofit organization because they can provide good training, mentorships and supervision.

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“They know how to handle these cases and deal with clients in crisis,” Cherubin said. “They’ll provide support to make sure that your well-being is maintained and you are providing services that the clients need.”

One might think that in today’s climate where law school students carry around six-figure debts that fewer attorneys starting their careers would be interested in pro bono service. At Brooklyn Law School, the average student who took on debt graduated $118,519 in the hole in 2016, according to U.S. News & World Report.

However, because New York state requires lawyers to do at least 50 hours of pro bono work to be admitted to the bar, Cherubin said that the VLP still gets plenty of young pro bono volunteers. The VLP also sees a lot of attorneys who are looking to get more experience or are trying to jump start their careers.

Perhaps one of the biggest things that the VLP does to prepare attorneys to do pro bono work is to train them to deal with clients.

“Sometimes people find it difficult to work with pro bono clients and they feel that because people are not paying for your services that they don’t value your services,” Cherubin said. “What people don’t realize is that you may be helping a client with an uncontested divorce, but they have other issues that are affecting their lives.

“An uncontested divorce can also have a housing component to it, a child support component to it,” he continued. “So when a client doesn’t show up to their appointment at a given time it’s not because they don’t care, but it is likely another crisis in their life that is happening preventing them from making it.”

The BBA’s next CLE will be a three-part course titled “MedMal Skills Series: Knocking Your Case Out of the Park.” It will take place on Nov. 6, Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. Each session will be worth two CLE credits. There will be two presenters each night, and they will share their trial strategies they have picked up while handling medical malpractice cases.


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