The Catholic University of America

Seated at table, alumni Siobhan Rausch, 1997, and Stephen Murphy, 1976, are introduced by Dean Veryl V. Miles.

Weaving Pro Bono Work onto a Legal Career

Not only is pro bono legal service to others good for the soul, it can also be good for a career, according to two Columbus School of Law alumni who stopped by on Feb. 24 to speak to current students about its importance.

Siobhan Rausch, 1997, a partner at Hogan & Hartson, LLP, and Stephen Murphy, 1976, a partner at Reed Smith, discussed "Incorporating Pro Bono Work into the Life of a Corporate Attorney" at the invitation of the law school's Legal Services Society, Students for Public Interest Law, the Securities Law Student Association and the Office of Law and Social Justice Initiatives.

Rausch, who practices primarily in the area of tax-exempt organizations, has assisted many small-budget non-profit organizations implement such things as whistle-blower policies, free of charge. Her willingness to do such non-billable work, she noted, allowed her to gain higher levels of responsibility earlier in her career. It also brought her into more frequent contact with senior partners, who are often remote figures to young associates. Pro bono projects gave Rausch a visibility within her firm that may have taken much longer to achieve without them, she explained.

Murphy, who coordinates pro bono activities among Reed Smith's attorneys, says his firm periodically posts a Pro Bono Honor Roll, and lawyers vie to make sure their names are on it. Reed Smith attorneys have taken on such pro bono causes as assisting disabled veterans, representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, protecting the legal rights of the elderly and assisting parents navigate the adoption process, among many other kinds of cases.

"We're coming around. We've got some good examples to follow," said Murphy, who added that his firm's special expertise in the courtroom sometimes leave lawyers scratching their heads about just what kind of pro bono cases to take on. "The challenge for us is to be creative and find the non-litigation opportunities," he stated.

Today's emphasis on pro bono work, which counts as billable hours at many firms, has come a long way in the past 30 years. In the 1970s, such work was lightly regarded by many in the legal profession, according to both Rausch and Murphy.

Today, a commitment to legal social service not only bolsters most careers, it just feels good, Rausch reminded the audience.

"It's not uncommon for attorneys who take on pro bono cases to experience a conversion," she said.