Ben Weinberg, Pro Bono Partner at SNR Denton, contributed the following article to Pro Bono Net's blog on Martindale Connected in April as part of a series of guest posts about pro bono. You can read the other posts in the Pro Bono Net Community on Connected.
The Power of Thank You
Earlier this week, I received a thank you letter for SNR Denton's work on a complex Pro Bono real estate transaction.
It's always nice to be thanked. And as SNR Denton's Pro Bono Partner, I regularly receive thank you letters from Pro Bono clients. But this one was really good. First, it was almost three pages long. The client recognized all of the lawyers and staff who worked on the transaction. The client thanked the lead lawyers on the matter. The client thanked all of the team members, including paralegals and secretaries. The client thanked the firm. The client thanked firm leadership.
And then there was the praise. Lots and lots. And promises to refer business to the firm.
Just fantastic. And, of course, I now have cirulated that letter to everyone I could think of. Firm leadership. Check. Practice group leaders. Check. Staff supervisers. Check. Marketing. Check. Colleagues. Check. Please let me know if I've left anyone out.
The power of Thank You!
But it all got me thinking about other times that I've been lucky enough to be associated with the power of thank you.
And the unfortunate reality is that while Pro Bono clients may frequently thank us for doing Pro Bono work, the legal profession is not filled with folks who have "thank you" on the tips of their tongues at all times. In fact, thank you's from colleagues and supervisors have been rare enough (regardless of whether I've been in private sector, government, or non-profit positions) that I actually can remember the limited times within the past twenty years when I've received meaningful thank you's. And yes, if you're wondering, I don't think this is because I have systematically disappointed everyone with whom I've worked (I hope).
I remember when I joined a large law firm for the first time. I had clerked and been a legal aid lawyer. But I wasn't prepared for how hard I was going to have to work. Oy the hours. I had picked up a Pro Bono appellate matter, and would start working on the brief with another associate after completing work -- around 9 or 10 pm -- on a large motion to dismiss in a securities fraud matter. Shortly after we filed the brief and the motion to dismiss, the partner in charge sent an email to our group leader, thanking all of us for the work on the securities fraud motion. But he reserved special thanks to me and my colleague for devoting our "extra" time to a pro bono case. He thanked us for our service and for doing the firm proud. And boy, did I feel proud.
The power of Thank You!
Which takes me back to the first time I remember being thanked as a lawyer. It was back in the early 1990's when I was a legal aid lawyer in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Our office specialized in the Hail Mary variety of lost causes. And I took on the representation of a woman in her 30's who had been denied the "opportunity" to live at the Robert Taylor Homes public housing site. I say "opportunity" because at the time, Robert Taylor was universally regarded as the absolute worst place to live in Chicago. And yet, my client wanted to live at Robert Taylor but had been denied entrance. Turns out that she had been denied over and over because she had a number of drug offenses on her record. As we climbed the stairs for the appeal hearing before an administrative law judge, she admitted that she was not hopeful about the outcome of the hearing because she had lost five or six previous appeals in the last three years.
So, we had the hearing and it went pretty well. Or at least I thought so, until we left the hearing room and my client burst into tears. I tried to assure her that the hearing had gone well, but she continued to sob. My optimism about the hearing drained away.
And then, she gathered herself, looked straight into my eyes, and said: "Thank you. I have been in that room so many times over the last few years, and that is the first time they ever treated me like a human being." Now I teared up. And I thanked her for the opportunity she had given me to represent her.
It was the best day of my legal career.
The power of Thank You!
Prior to joining SNR Denton as Pro Bono Partner in 2008, Ben Weinberg served as chief of the Illinois Attorney General's Public Interest Division where he was responsible for managing investigations and litigation for six bureaus: disability rights, civil rights, public utilities, tobacco enforcement, antitrust and special litigation. Before that, Ben was an equity partner at Jenner and Block, where he maintained an active pro bono practice, including representation of a death row inmate who received clemency in 2003. Ben began his legal career as a staff attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, where he specialized in domestic violence matters and juvenile court abuse and neglect cases.