around the bar
August 6, 2010

ABA Program Explores Public Service Trend Among Deferred Associates

Last year’s economic slump left some new graduates holding deferral notices instead of paychecks; and for many of them, deferred start dates provided the perfect opportunity to cut their legal teeth by providing pro bono services to those in need.  The trend was explored yesterday during “Law Firm Legal Aid: Where Are We One Year Later?”

One deferred associate, panelist Jessica Ourk, whose temporary public service placement landed her at the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, expressed her initial shock at being deferred. Like most law students, she hoped to secure law firm employment after graduation. While Ourk toyed with the idea of working for a non-profit before looking at law firms, her deferment brought her back to her initial plan.

According to Ourk, the experience has proven to be invaluable, providing her with a fulfilling, hands-on experience in the law.

Arcelia Hurtado, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, admits that she was initially hesitant to invest the time and energy into training volunteers. But first-hand experience with legal volunteers has changed her mind, and she now values the extra brainpower. Hurtado even advises other organizations to follow her lead.

Mark Morodomi, supervising deputy of Oakland, Calif., was another beneficiary of lawyer volunteerism. He knows that budget cuts still loom at many law firms and additional staff layoffs are imminent. He’s hoping that more new associates will volunteer and voiced plans to contact local firms to express interest in more volunteer lawyer referrals.

While the economy is showing signs of improvement, only time will tell if the trend of volunteerism among deferred associates will continue. One thing is for sure—the experience can be valuable for all parties involved.

For volunteer opportunities, visit the ABA’s pro bono website.

“Law Firm Legal Aid: Where Are We One Year Later?” was sponsored by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, Center for Pro Bono, Section of International Law and Law Practice Management Section.

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