Pro Bono - Law Firms Pro Bono Undertakings: "You Have A Very Real Sense That You Are Helping To Move Society In The Right Direction"

Editor: Mr. Jarcho, will you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Jarcho: I came to Washington, DC 20 years ago because I always have been fascinated with the federal government - how it works and how it can be made to work better. I soon began helping clients with litigation involving complicated federal regulatory problems. My practice now focuses on federal regulatory litigation - challenging federal agency policies, procedures and rules in federal court and defending against enforcement actions brought by federal agencies. I came to McKenna Long following five years at the Department of Justice, where I litigated civil and criminal cases on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration. My governmental experience in this particular arena established FDA litigation as one of my specialty areas.

Editor: What were the things that attracted you to McKenna Long?

Jarcho: I came to the firm because of its strong FDA practice and its well-deserved and longstanding reputation in litigation against federal agencies. I have been very happy here because the firm has provided me with a strong platform for my career and, at the same time, has provided me with the opportunity to contribute to the enhancement of the firm's work in this area.

Editor: You have also had a parallel career in the pro bono arena. What got you started down this road?

Jarcho: I came out of law school with a well developed sense that it is important for lawyers to use their specialized knowledge and skills to help less fortunate people. So the question was not whether I would do pro bono work but when. I took my first pro bono case shortly after I entered private practice. I received a great deal of personal satisfaction from handling the case, which led me to take on more pro bono work.

Editor: Is there a connection between your pro bono work and your full-time paid work?

Jarcho: The major point of overlap is appellate litigation. I handle a considerable amount of appellate work in my paid practice, and my pro bono cases also include a number of appellate matters. I have represented pro bono clients in the federal circuit courts of appeal and in the United States Supreme Court.

Editor: Today you are the Chair of McKenna Long's Pro Bono Committee. That did not just happen. Please tell us about the highlights of your pro bono career.

Jarcho: I typically try to have one active pro bono case going at any particular time. The appellate work I mentioned has included amicus curiae briefing in the United States Supreme Court for worthy clients such as the American Cancer Society. I currently have a Ninth Circuit case in a criminal matter involving a significant Sixth Amendment issue. I have done DC Circuit work in discrimination cases. I have also had some very interesting work in areas outside the litigation context. I represent the tenants' committee of a housing project in negotiations with a landlord. That has been very rewarding work. I have also been engaged in mediations on appointment by the district court in DC. Pro bono work can be an avenue into a broad spectrum of matters that a lawyer would not ordinarily see in billable practice, and I have been fortunate to add variety to my career by doing pro bono work.

I am also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Legal Aid Society of DC, which is the oldest legal services organization in Washington. It serves about 1,300 individuals and families annually in important areas such as housing and domestic violence. It is one of a number of DC organizations that refer pro bono matters to law firms, and I am pleased to be part of the connection between this terrific organization and McKenna Long. I am also very gratified to be able to contribute to the Legal Aid Society's work as a member of its governing board.

Editor: How is the firm's pro bono program administered? Is there a single committee for the entire firm? Does each office have some control over its pro bono agenda?

Jarcho: Each office has its own committee that determines which pro bono opportunities to pursue. That is important because opportunities arise in the local context. Each of the communities in which the firm has an office has its own needs, and that brings a variety of matters through the door. At the same time, we have a firm-wide pro bono committee that considers issues of policy from the perspective of the firm as a whole. We integrate the firm-wide work with the work of the local offices in administering our pro bono policy.

Editor: How do you go about deciding which projects to take on?

Jarcho: We follow the guidelines of the American Bar Association in determining what cases are appropriate to take on as pro bono matters. They fall into three general categories: undertakings on behalf of persons with limited means; cases which include some civil rights or public rights element; and work on behalf of non-profit or community organizations with limited means. If a matter falls into one of these areas, we then determine whether we have the resources, both in terms of expertise and personnel, to handle it.

Editor: What about practice areas? Litigators are always in demand for pro bono projects, but the opportunities are not as frequent for other practice areas. How do you go about spreading pro bono work across the entire firm? To the corporate area, for example?

Jarcho: We have many opportunities for pro bono service outside the litigation area, and we go to some lengths to publicize them throughout the firm. For example, non-litigators have helped artists set up non-profit organizations and have dealt with a variety of other issues that are unique to the world of culture and the arts. Our non-litigators handle trusts and estates matters, child custody cases, and matters involving the appointment of guardians. Corporate lawyers organize and incorporate non-profit organizations, help them obtain tax-exempt status, and guide them through a variety of corporate governance and other corporate issues. There is no lack of opportunity for lawyers who are not inclined to stand up in court.

Editor: How do you handle the situation where a pro bono undertaking turns out to be far more demanding, and absorbs much more time, than originally anticipated?

Jarcho: We handle pro bono cases as we handle all other cases. We do have situations from time to time in which a case becomes more significant than we thought it would be. In such a case we allocate the personnel and resources necessary to complete our commitment, just as we would in the case of a paying client.

Editor: Does the firm's pro bono program help in recruiting recent law school graduates and young laterals?

Jarcho: Very much so. I think that existence of the program, and its reputation, is a significant factor in our law school interviewing. We brought pro bono work into our summer associate program many years ago, and that has proven to be a very important aid to our recruiting efforts. It introduces young law students to the essence of our firm culture at a very early point in their careers. Many lawyers looking to join us as associates look at the pro bono program as an excellent hands-on training opportunity and as an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life.

Editor: You are also active with the firm's Professional Development Committee. Please tell us about the contribution pro bono experience can make in the professional evolution of a young attorney.

Jarcho: Perhaps I should start with my own professional evolution. My first deposition was in a pro bono case, and so was my first trial. I have benefited greatly in my own professional development in the experiences I have had in pro bono cases, and I am hardly alone at the firm in this. We have had associates trying federal cases and arguing federal appeals, and I can think of no better means of enhancing a young lawyer's professional development than by providing that kind of responsibility.

Editor: How about the connection between pro bono work and firm morale?

Jarcho: There is a very strong connection between pro bono work and firm morale. A person who does this kind of work is going to have a great sense of fulfillment, and a firm that encourages and supports pro bono work is going to be a happy place to work. I am very glad to say that McKenna Long is that kind of firm.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about the personal rewards of pro bono activity?

Jarcho: Lawyers are needed to resolve conflicts involving very basic human needs - the need for adequate housing, for example, or the need to receive assistance for disabling injuries, or the need to ensure proper custody of children. Our profession has always taken the position that lawyers should take care of these types of significant needs, regardless of someone's ability to pay. When you pitch in on a pro bono basis to work on these types of important problems, you have a very real sense that you are helping to move society in the right direction.

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