This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Felicity Conrad only worked for Skadden, one of the world’s most prominent law firms, for about two years but while she was there she had the opportunity to litigate a pro bono asylum case. She won. And in the bargain, she changed the lives of the family she represented–and her own. She left the firm to launch a site she says is “like Match.com for lawyers” and their pro bono clients.
As a first year associate, Conrad says she was afraid to take on the asylum case. It was her first time in a court room. After winning the case, to celebrate, the family took her out to dinner at McDonalds. “The children–the whole family was there. You can see the fruits of your labor in a way that most lawyers never see,” she said of the experience.
A vegetarian, Conrad describes eating french fries and being thankful “I had said ‘yes’ to something outside my comfort zone. Now I get to go through life knowing that somewhere out there something is a little bit better because I was able to be a part of it.”
Watch the full interview with Conrad in the video player at the top of this article.
The experience inspired her to start Paladin, a platform for matching lawyers to pro bono projects, which launched in February.
According to Conrad’s research, 80 percent of people who need free legal help don’t get it. The National Bar Association recommends that lawyers do 50 hours of pro bono work each year. If all of them did, it would close what Conrad calls the “justice gap”–the unmet need for pro bono legal services.
Todd Leishman, a shareholder at Durham Jones Pinegar in Salt Lake City who practices corporate law, says he thinks the site could increase the amount of pro bono work being done if it makes it easier to find cases that are interesting and that match a lawyer’s specialty.
He cautions, however, “The truth is few corporate lawyers do pro bono work because most pro bono work involves criminal, domestic, landlord/tenant, Social Security benefits, and immigration law, and particularly litigation matters related to those areas.”
He hastens to add that corporate lawyers find other ways to give back, serving on nonprofit boards and donating to programs like the Utah State Bar’s “And Justice For All” project.
Similarly, Marty Tate, a partner at Carman Lehnhof Isrealsen, says he thinks the site can increase the amount of pro bono work being done. “Anything that facilitates or makes something easier should result in increased participation.”
He notes that lawyers are often on their own to find pro bono work. “Unless a lawyer is part of a firm with an active pro-bono program which encourages and rewards their attorneys for such work, most attorneys must actively seek out such opportunities through their state or local bar.”
“Personally, I do not see many opportunities for pro-bono work outside of the State Bar. This type of platform would provide increased exposure to opportunities and the ability to target specific opportunities of interest and expertise,” he concludes.
Conrad notes what she calls a “binary” situation. Some lawyers have never done pro bono work while others do it regularly. Her goal is to turn as many people who haven’t done pro bono work into people who do it regularly as possible.
With Paladin, she’s invented a whole new type of matchmaking and there are a lot of people hoping she is successful.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!