Pro Bono

Situations Wanted: Laid-Off Lawyers Seek Volunteer Work—and Get Rejected

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Updated: Jeremy Dyme was a fourth-year associate who found himself out of a job when his New York law firm dissolved at the end of the year. Now he’s finding that even volunteer work in his targeted field is difficult to secure.

Dyme is looking for a volunteer position in the field of economic development and microfinance, with hopes of parlaying his pro bono experience into a new job in the field, the New York Times reports. He has little expertise in microfinance, and that could be hindering the pro bono search.

“After at least half a dozen offers to volunteer, both solicited and unsolicited, I have had one phone interview,” Dyme told the Times. “It’s funny to go from being grossly overpaid as a law firm associate to trying to market myself for a position to work for free.”

Dyme’s predicament highlights the difficulties of volunteering for nonprofit groups that are stretched thin and unable to provide enough opportunities, according to the Times. The story doesn’t give the name of Dyme’s prior law firm, but online profiles identify it as Thacher Proffitt & Wood.

Dyme isn’t alone. Many large law firms are offering stipends to associates who agree to defer their start dates and work for public interest groups. But the firms are finding that there are limits on the number of available volunteer positions, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.

Owen Pell, partner and chairman of the recruiting committee at White & Case, outlined the problems in an interview with the NLJ.

“For a lot of these organizations, from what I hear, they are all very enthusiastic. They would love to have more hands,” Pell said. “The question for them is how many people can they truly supervise and do they actually have desks for them to sit at.” White & Case is seeking to place 90 associates whose start dates have been deferred.

The story also cites a “fairness issue”: Many of the big-firm stipends start at $60,000 a year, about the same as the salary paid to many senior lawyers at public interest law firms in a city like San Francisco.

The Times mentioned another problem with volunteers who once held high-profile jobs: a “you’re lucky to get me free” attitude.

Besides White & Case, these law firms are seeking to place deferred first-year associates in volunteer positions, according to the NLJ: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Latham & Watkins; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Foley Hoag are also making a stipend-for-pro-bono offer to laid-off lawyers who give up severance pay.

One of the lawyers taking advantage of that offer is Dave Dineen, who agreed to work for Greater Boston Legal Services after he was laid off at Foley Hoag, CNN reports. His firm is paying him about a quarter of his former salary.

Dineen represents low-income clients facing foreclosure. “This gave me a chance to do something different with my legal career, and help out people who generally don’t have access to public service,” Dineen told CNN.

Updated at 11:10 a.m. to include information from the CNN story.

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