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Two Routes to Doing Good

Funny how disparate news stories sometimes seem meant to complement each other. In this case, it is one story about a lawyer whose conversion to working with the needy was a long time coming and another story about a lawyer whose conversion was of a different type and a long time ago.

In Pro Bono Starts at the Top, Ben Hallman, reporter for The American Lawyer, tells about the "conversion" of Francis Milone, chair of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius since 1999. For many years, as his career took off, he neglected pro bono entirely, he admits. Then, when he became chair of his firm, "I began to think about our obligations as lawyers." What came of that, Hallman writes, was the rededication of Milone and his firm to pro bono work:

"In 2005 he told Morgan Lewis partners at an annual retreat that they must rededicate themselves to pro bono work. He also announced that he would lead by example. Milone took on his first case in many years -- representing a disabled teenager who is suing a public school district outside Philadelphia for better educational opportunities -- and went on the road, preaching the good word about pro bono to lawyers in the firm's 11 largest American offices."

That renewed effort caused Morgan Lewis to jump up 94 spots in this year's survey by The American Lawyer of pro bono at the 200 largest firms -- from 116 to 22. It is an impressive leap, but one that is, as Hallman notes, the exception, not the rule, among large firms.

Meanwhile, out of Tennessee comes the story of a lawyer whose conversion to working with the poor came not late in his career but quite early -- and took him from the seminary to Legal Aid. In her story, Legal Aid was Leader's Mission of Faith, The Tennessean reporter Sheila Burke tells of Ashley Wiltshire, who retired Friday after 37 years as a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands -- and more than 30 years as the organization's executive director. Burke writes:

"Faith drove Ashley Wiltshire to the seminary in the '60s.

"But instead of taking that faith to the pulpit, he became a lawyer.

"It may have seemed on odd spiritual path to some, but for Wiltshire, becoming a lawyer was the best way he saw to do good works. And instead of some high-paying private firm, Wiltshire went to work for Legal Aid."

Wiltshire was in a New York seminary in 1966 when he traveled south to work in the civil rights movement. There, he met law students and lawyers working on civil rights matters, "and it just seemed to me that the lawyers were getting a lot more done than the seminary students." He enrolled in Vanderbilt University Law School and, after graduation, went to work for the just-opened Legal Aid office in Nashville.

Today, that single office has grown into an organization with eight  offices serving 48 Tennessee counties. Even so, it is unable to meet the region's overwhelming need for legal services, Wiltshire says, citing as reasons both the dearth of volunteer attorneys and Legal Aid's difficult recruiting new lawyers because of the low salaries it pays.

Two stories of two lawyers leading two very different lives. But "conversions," of sorts, led both to doing good work -- one sooner, the other much later.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 2, 2007 at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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