Pro Bono Spotlight - Whitley Johnson
"Pro bono work can also give young attorneys experience they may have to wait several years for."
Whitley Johnson is a first-year associate at Latham & Watkins, LLP, and a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.
Though the first year of practice can be a major adjustment, Whitley began volunteering almost immediately after being barred by the State of Texas. “I am very grateful to be in a position to volunteer in my free time to help those who are unable to afford an attorney. I have witnessed family members firsthand growing up unable to afford attorneys in situations they needed one, so I try to use my skills and knowledge to help whenever I can.”
Pro bono work can also give young attorneys experiences they may have to wait several years for, such as the opportunity to work with more senior attorneys within their firm but outside of their practice group. Developing new skills, learning new areas of the law, and working with new attorneys can help younger associates build their practice. Whitley credits her volunteer work for enabling her to “ gain further confidence in my abilities, to think on my feet, improved my research skills, and furthered my communication skills.”
When asked for advice to first time pro bono attorneys Whitley had this to say “be confident in your skills, and although you may be far outside your typical day to day area of law, trust in your skills, and don’t be afraid to ask more senior attorneys for help.” “For me, the largest learning curve was communicating with clients “live” and thinking on my feet. I needed to learn to navigate the client’s questions in real-time, which was not a skill I had yet developed as a corporate associate doing most of my communication via email.”
Pro bono work can also be gratifying in several ways. “Other attorneys should take on pro bono cases and volunteer opportunities because you get to know clients on a personal level, and they are always so appreciative of your time.” “For corporate attorneys like me, volunteer work is a great opportunity to break out of the daily rut and shake things up by learning a different area of law.” On a more personal note, she states, “these cases have also taught me to be more aware and present of my privilege, to be grateful, and increase my empathy.”