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Q&A with Alison King: New Chair of the City Bar’s Pro Bono & Legal Services Committee

November 10, 2015

 

  

 » Alison King, Kaye Scholer’s Pro Bono Counsel and Co-Chair of the
firm’s Pro Bono Committee, discusses the firm's pro bono initiative and her
new role as Chair of the City Bar’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee.
 

Alison King, Kaye Scholer’s Pro Bono Counsel and Co-Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, has been appointed the new Chair of the City Bar’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee. Alison recently spoke with us about the Committee, her new responsibilities and the path toward making pro bono her career.

Tell us about New York City Bar’s Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee.

The Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee’s mission is to address issues surrounding pro bono work by attorneys and to advocate for efforts to provide legal services to those in need. There are more than 40 members of the Committee, and its members represent legal services organizations, law schools, corporations and law firms. I have been a member of the Committee for the last six years, and it is the one place that I believe truly promotes an open and honest dialogue about pro bono in New York City. 

For the past several years the Chief Judge of New York, Jonathan Lippman, has been changing the face of pro bono in New York.  The Committee has been assisting Judge Lippman and the Judiciary in the implementation of his amazing legacy of increased attention to pro bono, including: Non-lawyer Practitioner developments; the  Pro Bono Scholars Program; the 50 Hour Reporting Pro Bono Admission Rule and the Pro Bono Reporting Rule; as well as the Chief Judge’s Task Force Law School Conference. 

The Committee is also responsible for providing support for the City Bar’s activities, including their advocacy this past year around the Right to Counsel in Housing Court. Members of the Committee drafted a substantial report detailing legislative recommendations. 

What responsibilities will you take on in your new role as Chair of the Committee?

Under my leadership, the Committee will continue many of its initiatives, including:

  • Best Practices in Pro Bono conversations,
  • Corporate In-House Pro Bono program,
  • “Encouraging Pro Bono for Small Firms and Solo Practitioners” sessions,
  • Monitoring and coordinating the responses by the Law School to the Chief Judge’s pro bono requirements and bar admissions processes,
  • Legislative Affairs subcommittee advocacy work (including the Right to Counsel in Housing Court work),
  • Coordinating the City’s pro bono response to Immigration matters in state and federal court,
  • Promoting pro bono work for those attorneys who are transitioning away from a paying client practice (with an initial focus on large law firm partners and counsel), and
  • Disaster preparedness with the promotion of a volunteer software management system for the legal services organizations in the City that can be expanded for use by a coalition of organizations during a disaster.

What sparked your interest in pro bono work?

I graduated from a law school that had a pro bono requirement for graduation. I didn’t fulfill that obligation until the second semester of my third year of school. When the registrar called and told me that I had better get started, I worked with a legal services organization to assist an elderly couple who were having difficulty renegotiating their mortgage. They had tried for six months to speak to a particular bank executive, to no avail. I was able to reach the same bank executive in five minutes because of my affiliation with my law school. 

When I realized that there were many situations in which my abilities as a lawyer would make a huge difference in someone else’s life, and that there was very little chance of success without an attorney’s involvement, I promised to always dedicate time to making a difference. 

As successful lawyers, we have a responsibility to give back to the communities in which we live and work. We should be using our talents to support those that have an urgent need and have nowhere else to turn.

How did you get on the career path to become Kaye Scholer’s Pro Bono Counsel?

I actually didn’t intend on having a career in pro bono. While I wanted to begin pro bono as soon as I arrived at the firm, I was intimidated by the list of opportunities that the Pro Bono Committee circulated. Eventually, Steve Koval asked me to assist an existing non-profit in the creation of a national umbrella organization. I was able to work with Laurie Abramowitz and started learning about not-for-profit work. I found that I loved working with organizations that were actually making a difference in the world. It made my long hours at the firm more worthwhile, and I felt connected to the outside world in a way that I hadn’t before. 

I was then asked to be the Co-Chair of the Pro Bono Committee while I was a sixth year. When I realized how organized and professional other firms were in their approach to pro bono, I knew that we had to create a structured and strategic program to best meet the needs of our attorneys and better assist those in need. For the next 10 years, I was a cross-border securities lawyer and running the pro bono program. 

Three years ago, I became the firm’s Pro Bono Counsel and am now responsible for the firm’s pro bono program, with my clients being only pro bono clients. This has allowed me to take on the additional pro bono projects that I wouldn’t have been able to when I was also practicing securities law, including representing the firm in national and local discussions of pro bono.

How do we support pro bono at Kaye Scholer?

We have a number of core pro bono practice areas:

  • the Death Penalty Defense Project,
  • the Immigration Project,
  • the Transgender Name Change Project,
  • the Legal Audit Project, and
  • the Tax-Exempt Organizations Project.

These areas are managed by attorneys who are on the Pro Bono Committee, allowing us to have institutional knowledge on certain types of pro bono matters. They can field questions from lawyers working on a specific matter and provide a means of coordinating the firm’s responses to similar situations or issues. These members of our Committee also provide supervision and mentoring for all matters in the firm in their practice area. Having identifiable leaders of a particular pro bono practice area increases the chances that associates who have an interest in that pro bono practice area will take on a pro bono matter.

I am extremely proud of the amazing work that our attorneys have done in representing their pro bono clients. They are doing, and have done, incredible work. We should all be proud.

Tell us about a memorable pro bono victory.

In terms of the work-to-date, while I will say that meeting Vice President Biden was certainly a highlight – and that I’ve enjoyed working on various pro bono committees and with start-up non-profits – I can’t really choose one pro bono client or matter over another. I am very proud of all of my work and really enjoy the challenges of every matter. I love being a part of the law firm pro bono community.

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Alison King
Pro Bono Counsel
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