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When D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer was working for the Legal Aid Society in New York in the early ’90s, she spent more than a few long nights working on cases in her cramped office, which she shared with another attorney. Late on one of those evenings, a mouse suddenly scampered across her desk. In the retelling, she wished she could say that she was brave, but in actuality she fled her office. A custodian said not to worry; the problem was fixable. After Singer went back to her office, the custodian showed up a few minutes later, carrying a cat under each arm. He suggested she go back downstairs for a while. “Those of us in public service and government service have learned how to get by with two cats,” Singer said to a crowd of law professors and pro bono folk at a symposium at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law earlier this month. And now, as the District’s attorney general for the past 10 months, Singer has managed to corral some pretty big cats of her own. She and her staff have made a point of engaging the private bar in pro bono work on government cases, ranging from juvenile arraignments to the gun case that might make it to the Supreme Court. Law firms are “hugely receptive, because most of the projects that the District government can involve law firms in are going to be very interesting public policy matters,” says Walter Smith, the executive director of D.C. Appleseed and a former deputy attorney general for the District. Taking a two-pronged approach, Singer has built up the office’s court rotation, adding outside attorneys to the other litigation divisions, and has enlisted firms in town to assist in a number of pro bono projects. “She just has this tremendously effective external vision, and if she can pull it off, it will be, from a citizen’s perspective, a remarkable thing,” says Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. The AG’s office has around five to six outside attorneys enlisted as special assistant attorneys general at a given time, and the office has expanded the rotation to include not just the Civil Division but also the Juvenile, Neighborhood and Victims Services, and Appellate divisions. “They become part of our team, and it is both a great way for us to expand what we’re doing and a great way for them to get real legal skills and to engage in some of the really important work we do,” says Singer. Law firms donate associates for six-month stints that range from full-time to 20 hours a week. The associates, who might otherwise be stuck in back rooms digging through documents for their law firms, get a chance to do depositions, motions, hearings, and trials for the District. “A lot of what you do at a big firm is research-related,” says Jane Maschka, an associate at WilmerHale who did her rotation in the Juvenile Division. “You don’t always, as a young associate, get a chance to stand up and develop oral advocacy skills.” Morrison & Foerster also loaned associate Tim O’Brien to the AG’s office last month. He is working in the Neighborhood and Victims Services Division, helping to prosecute D.C.’s nuisance laws and taking on landlords in lead paint cases. “The pro bono aspect of it is tremendously appealing to the firm,” says Robert Loeffler, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s D.C. office. “Beyond that, there is the ability to get trial experience.” Fulbright & Jaworski has been sending two associates to the office every six months since 2005. Thus far, 13 of the firm’s 22 litigation associates have participated, and more plan to do so. The firm calculates that the number of billing hours spent by its associates doing pro bono work for the city is worth around $1.5 million. “This office has definitely taken a long-term view,” says Ashley Seuell, an associate at Fulbright who finished up her rotation in May. “And this connection with the OAG and with the community will in turn make this a stronger office.” The AG’s office under Singer has also reached out to firms for specific pro bono projects. Here are a few examples of the work the office is currently doing with the assistance of the private bar:

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