Energy lawyer and military officer John Shepherd Jr. seems to have boundless stamina for helping the underdog in pro bono housing and veterans’ rights cases. He’s counsel to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and a major in the U.S. Army Reserve but has found time in his busy schedule to devote to his pro bono clients. Since joining Skadden in 2000, he has logged more than 1,300 pro bono hours.
Shepherd has been deployed twice since joining Skadden, including a combat tour in Iraq from May 2007 to May 2008. “The reason I became a lawyer and the reason I became a soldier are exactly the same reason: to fight bad things and to make good things happen,” Shepherd said. “You’re either a person who is convicted about trying to make the world a better place or you’re not.”
Since 2004, he has regularly volunteered at the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Program’s Landlord Tenant Resource Center. Through that and other volunteer channels, he has helped indigent tenants avoid eviction. “The sense of urgency that these people have is pretty high [and so is] the sense of relief you can give to people who ought not to be facing this situation,” Shepherd said.
Last year, Shepherd supervised Skadden associates in two pro bono eviction cases. One case stemmed from an alleged assault committed by one of the tenant’s children. The team delayed the case until the tenant could find other housing, and the landlord dismissed the case last November.
Litigation skills are invaluable in such cases, Shepherd said. “They particularly need the help of people who don’t back down,” Shepherd said. “I don’t. I just don’t.”
In addition, he has helped other soldiers with a variety of legal tangles including child custody and child support, employment, housing and a sexual harassment complaint.
Shepherd’s regular work at the Landlord Tenant clinic is consistent with his sense of public service, much like his military service, said Mike Naeve, who heads Skadden’s Washington office and its energy practice group. “His pro bono activity is just a different manifestation of that sense of duty,” Naeve said.