Charlie Crompton, Lawyer at The GLIDE Foundation
Charlie Crompton, Lawyer at The GLIDE Foundation (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

Last fall, Latham & Watkins partner Charlie Crompton, a 25-year Big Law veteran, launched a drop-in legal clinic at GLIDE, an organization that supports the poor and disenfranchised in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. In April, he withdrew from private practice to dedicate himself to the clinic full time.

Q: You chaired Latham & Watkins pro bono program, globally, for five years. When did your relationship start with GLIDE?

A: If you go all the way back, 25 years, when I was an associate, one of my earliest pro bono clients was Rubicon Programs. Five or six years ago, when GLIDE needed a lawyer, the executive director, who was the former executive director of Rubicon, suggested me. It was cool; it was like it was meant to be.

Q: What inspired you to commit to the clinic full time?

A: From the very beginning of my legal career I had been really interested in doing public service and pro bono work. My dad was a lawyer that did a lot of public service work on the side and my mom was a judge. When I went to work for a big law firm, my mom warned me that I was going to be making a lot of money and that it can be addictive. I made a commitment to her and to myself to try [to] not let that happen to me, to midcareer, midlife, transition into public service. I turned 50 last year, so I started to become more focused on what I was going to do next and how I was going to it. I felt that I had two choices: one was to try to become a judge and the other was to build a clinic at GLIDE. I saw there was a need at GLIDE.

Q: How’s it going?

A: It’s unbelievable. We’ve had 144 clients [since September 2013], and I see 20 to 25 a month. We’re achieving the phase one goal, which is to offer all the people who come into GLIDE access to a lawyer. [Latham] has been supportive in terms of providing funding and providing volunteer lawyers. And other law firms, agencies, associations and other providers in the city have been offering experience or advice and resources because they recognize the importance and value of this idea. It’s been really successful in that regard, in terms of support.

Q: You used to be an IP and antitrust litigator working for Silicon Valley giants such as Oracle and Genetech. What sorts of matters do you work on now?

A: A pretty wide range. The types of problems you’d expect poor people in underserved communities to have. A lot of stuff involving housing, benefits, some family law, criminal law, consumer-related issues. I’m like a primary care physician; there is a portion of the matters that I can handle on-site, and then there’s stuff that’s really complicated or really specialized or both, and that’s when I’ll rely on this network that I mentioned.

Q: What’s been the biggest adjustment in your professional life?

A: The environment, the surroundings. Not just the Tenderloin vs. the Financial District, but being amongst people who have a totally different set of motivations. What motivates people here and what they care about, that just infuses everything about the culture and atmosphere.

Q: How do you define success?

A: Making a difference.

Q: What drives you?

A: Nothing is as meaningful as helping other people.

Q: When it comes to public service, do you have a role model?

A: Both of my parents as I said, and then the judge I clerked for, Hon. Jane Roth. She had been a big firm lawyer as had her dad and then she became a judge. We had a lot in common. I’m also really heavily influenced by my grandfather, who did a lot of community service and he did it all in a very quiet way.