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Whether they realize it or not, young lawyers and law students have the power to force law firms to live up to their commitment to pro bono work. That was one of the messages that emerged from a panel discussion on public service opportunities for attorneys held several weeks ago at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. At a time when large law firms appear to be taking a step back from pro bono work, counteracting the cost of associate salary increases by hiking billable hour requirements, attorneys just entering the profession have the ability to demand of their firms a renewed devotion to public service, several panelists said. Warren Sinsheimer, a retired partner at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler who went on to found Westchester County’s Legal Services for Children, said that today’s law school graduates should make it a veritable term of employment that they will work only for firms that allow a significant pro bono commitment and credit the pro bono hours toward yearly requirements. If young lawyers make pro bono work a priority, he and other lawyers on the panel argued, law firms will be forced to follow suit. “If pro bono were terminated tomorrow by the 25 largest law firms in the country, those firms would be sorely lacking for new recruits out of the law schools,” said Franklin Bass, a retired partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson who is now a volunteer Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. The event, entitled “Diversify Your Career (And Yourself): Public Service Opportunities in the Metropolitan Area,” was sponsored by the New York City Bar Public Service Network, which matches volunteer lawyers with groups that need assistance. The panel gathered attorneys from law firms and nonprofit law offices to talk about their experiences in public service. In a keynote address, Cravath, Swaine & Moore partner Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., a former Corporation Counsel for New York City, urged young lawyers to establish ties in community service at the first opportunity. “It’s an enormous advantage to start getting involved early,” he said. “You develop a reputation if you take on public causes as a young person.” The panelists stressed that the universe of public service opportunities for lawyers is vast, encompassing both litigation and transactional work in areas as disparate as government, legal services and the arts. And representatives of nonprofits in the audience emphasized that flexible arrangements for volunteering are possible even during lunch hours so long as lawyers treat their pro bono obligations as seriously as they would those to any paying client. “There’s lots of good ways for people to do good works in any way they can,” said Martin Needelman of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “The important thing is that people meet their commitments.” And participants took pains to note that the efforts of lawyers who volunteer in non-legal capacities such as writing newsletters and fund-raising are no less helpful. “It is certainly possible to use someone who says, ‘I am a lawyer but that’s the last thing I want to do,’ ” said Daniel Greenberg of the New York Legal Aid Society, who moderated the discussion. “ You shouldn’t overlook the non-legal stuff as you think about what’s fulfilling for you.” Schwarz, of Cravath, suggested that public service work tends to create lasting relationships that benefit a lawyer throughout his practice. “There’s just so much to do. This city is the richest in the world in terms of organizations involved in public service matters,” he said. “Young lawyers have enormous power if they’re willing to say they want a full role as a lawyer.”

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