Posted Mar 01, 2010 08:40 am CST
Last June, we wrote about three young associates who left their $160,000 salaries at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to spend a year working for nonprofits for stipends of $60,000. We recently checked in with them for a progress report.
Photo by Thomas Broening
David Edwards, Serena Orloff and Jonathan Taylor, recipients of the firm’s newly minted public interest fellowships, have no regrets. “It’s been an unbelievable experience,” declares Orloff, who took up her post in June at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and plunged into working for indigent and low-income clients.
“One of the things that is so different is that I’m in close contact with my clients,” she says. “What I do every day affects them immensely and of course when I do something that affects them in a positive way, I see it right away. But it is also a lot of pressure.”
With 50 clients it’s a heavy workload, but Orloff appreciates the opportunity to gain experience in all stages of litigation. She recently represented a woman charged with resisting arrest and battery against a police officer. Orloff presented evidence that the woman had been illegally stopped and subjected to excessive force by the arresting officer. “We got not guilty on all counts!” Orloff exults.
Photo by Scott Pasfield
If Taylor had to summon a single word for his work with the Rainforest Foundation U.S. in Central and South America, it would be improvisation.
Since arriving for duty in August, he has worked to support the rights of indigenous people in a high-profile land rights case in Brazil and in a World Bank-backed rainforest protection program in Panama. He is also partnering with professors from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru’s law school to set up a summer class on indigenous rights linked to a legal clinic run by the school.
“It was a whole new area of law, indigenous law, and frankly I didn’t have any training in it,” he says. “I had to get myself caught up in a short time span.”
For Edwards, the geographical distance between this year’s gig at New York University’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law and his old desk at Simpson Thacher—about 40 city blocks—marked a metaphorical gulf. “It’s the difference between being in-house and working for the law firm.”
Photo by Scott Pasfield
At the center, much of his work involves writing amicus briefs for which the center hires law firms to assist with the drafting. “For the most part, we are the client. At Simpson, it was whatever the client wants, but here we’re sort of directing the substance rather than pounding it out.”
“I’m still a very fresh and new lawyer, so any new experience and perspective I can get is definitely a benefit for me,” says Edwards.
Simpson Thacher, too, is pleased. After awarding more than 30 fellowships in 2009, it has extended the program into 2010, says partner and pro bono committee co-chair William T. Russell.
“The people we’ve sent on the fellowships have been reporting back that they’re having a wonderful time,” he says. “From that perspective, it’s a tremendous success.”