Pro Bono Spotlight with Lauren Grochow
What motivates you to do pro bono work?
It’s what the law is all about—justice for all. It’s a critical function of a society with laws and, for me, it’s a given to donate my time and experience as an attorney for a greater good.
As pro bono attorneys, we help people who are facing critical legal issues that are impacting their lives and livelihood. Without our help, they would likely go unrepresented, attempting on their own to navigate the unfamiliar U.S. legal system. Every time I am able to use my skills and training to make a difference, I am re-energized to continue my pro bono work.
Can you tell us about a pro bono case that made an impact on you?
I actually just had a case with CLA SoCal housing attorney Jonathan Gibson. We won the matter on a motion for summary judgment for a client whose landlord was ready to evict her and her family, in the middle of the pandemic. The client was out of work because of the pandemic, as was her partner, and they were doing their best to find odd jobs to supplement their income. She was very responsive and interested in what we were doing in the case, and it was refreshing to work with her.
We went toe to toe with the landlord and argued complicated parts of the law that became the basis of the ruling in our favor. As a result, our client has gained a significant amount of additional time to remain in the home. It was gratifying to feel like I was able to help alleviate some of the stress and fear our client was experiencing over a possible eviction during a national health crisis.
Housing is an area that has traditionally not been ideal for pro bono attorneys because it often requires specialized knowledge and because of the fast pace of the cases. You’ve been volunteering at CLA SoCal’s Unlawful Detainer clinic to help tenants facing eviction and you’ve been encouraging your colleagues at Troutman Pepper to also get involved. What has been your and your colleagues experience with this work?
It’s true that housing law is a world unto itself, but I have found that once you take on a few cases you learn quickly what codes apply. You get the hang of it. When you work the clinic, you are also part of a great partnership with Jonathan and supervising attorney Alisha Saska, both of whom are seasoned housing attorneys and truly know their practice area.
A new associate looking to do pro bono work at the UD clinic will find their limited experience and what they do day-to-day at the firm—research, writing, strategizing, etc.—can be applied. Once you realize this and learn the codes, it is no longer daunting and becomes comfortable.
Generally, the attorneys who represent the landlords have been in the field for a long time. With the new COVID-19 protections, however, they are not necessarily at an advantage. As pro bono attorneys, we bring fresh eyes and are using the new COVID-19 protections in ways that are defeating the landlords’ attorneys, which is both exciting and empowering.
The pace is fast, but I see it as a plus when you realize that you will not have to worry about scheduling time around a long-term pro bono commitment, as you would if you took on a more traditional civil litigation case.
Finding ways to defend the clients and prevent or delay their eviction, particularly during this pandemic, is stimulating and fulfilling and that’s why I encourage my colleagues and other attorneys I know to join me.
What do you think are some of benefits attorneys get from providing pro bono assistance?
I think I’ve touched on this in my previous comments. Personally, when I provide pro bono assistance, I feel like I am putting good out into the world. It grounds me and connects me to my community. I become more in tune with what is happening in the community and, therefore, feel much more a part of it.
It’s rewarding to put my skills to good use by helping people stay in their homes. This pandemic has been devastating for so many and whatever it is I can do to help alleviate what they are going through, like a possible eviction, is the benefit. There is nothing better than winning a pro bono case!
What do you think we can do to get more people involved?
Spread the word about the need and the ways we (attorneys) can step in and help address that need. Sometimes, the greatest barrier to entry is lack of knowledge and those of us already donating our time can break down that barrier by having more peer-to-peer conversations with our colleagues and associates about pro bono opportunities and how to engage.