Shook Shorts: Find Your Pro Bono Path
Partner Charlie Eblen interviews Partner Scot Fishman, director of Shook's pro bono program.
Hello, I’m Charlie Eblen, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. I’m excited to introduce you to our new pro bono director, Scot Fishman, who recently joined the firm. In his role, Scot will manage the direction of the firm’s pro bono initiatives and work to encourage more lawyers to engage in pro bono matters. Scot, welcome to the firm.
Thanks, Charlie. I look forward to our discussion.
Tell us a little about your background.
Sure, I’ve been managing pro bono at two law firms for about 15 years after doing several years of litigation work. I’ve been at big firms in New York, big firms in Los Angeles—and now, Shook.
And you practiced as a litigator but eventually moved full-time to pro bono. Tell us about that experience and why you made the change.
Sure. Before I was a lawyer, I was actually a teacher. And I remember when I left teaching and went back to law school, I had a conversation with my kids and I told them that I would do something that would carry the experiences that I learned from them on to my legal practice. I woke up one day representing a bunch of energy companies in commercial litigation and it just wasn’t doing it for me.
A job opening came up at my first firm and it just so happened that the person who recruited me to the firm knew my background and knew my passionate about pro bono work and came to me and gave me right of first refusal for the job. Let’s just say I did not refuse it; I grabbed it and went with it.
Do you have a favorite pro bono story you can share—either from yourself or someone at your prior firms?
Early on, at my very first firm, we actually represented a bakery in Brooklyn. It just so happened that this small bakery had an employee that was running a drug operation out of the back of it. The owner’s husband, the co-owner of the business, got wrapped up in a criminal charge. It was a crazy story—long story short is that we were able to get them out of this mess after a lot of work. She ended up becoming the most appreciative pro bono client in history—every year we would get free rugelach at the holiday time. Fast-forward several years later, we had an incoming class of about 100 lawyers and I decided to give her some business. I called her up and I said, we have 100 lawyers in here—will you allow me to have you cater the program? And she said, absolutely not, this will be free of charge for all of the work that you did for us. She said, how many do you have? I said, we have 100—please let me pay you something! She refused. The day of the program, she and her husband come walking in with enough rugelach to feed our entire New York office of 450 lawyers. It was an incredible story, and it just shows you how appreciative our clients can be when you really go to bat for them.
What about you, Charlie, do you have any crazy stories of your own?
I don’t know if I would call them crazy. Two short ones that demonstrate the commitment Shook has to pro bono and span the entirety of my career thus far.
As a first-year associate, the firm let me take on an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals appeal in a criminal case of a guy I knew. We were able to get him a renewed sentence, his sentence was vacated and took about five years off his sentence. So that was a big victory.
And right now currently I’m working on a section 1983 inmate’s right case for a gentleman who is now deceased, who suffered from stage 4 lung cancer untreated for 3 to 4 months in a state prison that is set for trial next year. I think that the length of time I’ve been here and the different type of offerings and how encouraging Shook has been to allow young lawyers to take on cases and get on their feet has just been a great experience in my career here.
On that point, what kind of things do you do to try and get lawyers engaged with pro bono?
I find that getting involved with pro bono is a very personal decision for most people. I stopped assuming a long time ago what it is that drives people to get involved. Some people are very passionate about the subject matter—in fact, many people are very passionate about the subject matter around the work we do—but people come to the plate to do pro bono for lots of different reasons. Sometimes it’s a great networking opportunity, sometimes it’s a great skill development opportunity, sometimes they just know that it is important to the firm and they want to be a good firm player. Also, people have different capacities as far as their time commitments or the time that they’re willing to give to a pro bono case. I find getting people involved means providing all of the types of opportunities—span all the subject matters that are going to bring people to the table, and also different types of time commitments. You have to be able to provide opportunities that are going to be big swings, medium swings, and then understand that there’s going to be some bunters in the firm that can only do so much in small bits. You’ve got to find opportunities to meet them where they’re at from an interest capacity and time capacity.
That’s great. Do you see any new opportunities on the horizon for Shook?
We just actually launched a great program on the west side in California—Orange County and Los Angeles, with some help from one of our lawyers in San Francisco—have just agreed to work with public counsel and help facilitate the adoption of children in foster care program. We just opened up about ten new cases in the last couple weeks, and we have some adoptions that are going to be facilitated by November or December of this year. It’s one of the newest programs that we’ve launched and it’s great work. Absolutely great work.
Well, that’s great, and hopefully more to come. We’re glad to have you here, Scot. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today!
Thanks, I’m glad to be here. Appreciate it!