One thing that struck me when I interviewed with Morrison & Foerster last year was the firm’s commitment to pro bono work. When I spoke to partner Colette Reiner Mayer during my interview, I was impressed to learn that MoFo had sued the government for inhumane conditions at an Arizona detention center in Doe v. Wolf. So, I was excited when we were given the chance to hear more about the case during the summer program.
The Doe v. Wolf team described the appalling conditions in the center and showed us some shocking images unearthed during the case. They shared their stories from the case, including how they dealt with the destruction of video evidence and how everyone on the team fell ill with a bad flu right before trial. This was the first major lawsuit challenging conditions in detention centers, and its successful outcome paved the way for future litigation in other detention centers. From listening to this story, it was clear to me that MoFo attorneys can make a real difference with their pro bono work.
Even the firm’s smaller pro bono projects can help the community and teach us how to be better lawyers and advocates. This summer, I worked on a conservatorship case for a local couple with a disabled child. The couple was seeking conservatorship to make medical decisions for their son, who has a learning disability. I was given the task of preparing the clients’ conservatorship application, with assistance from Palo Alto partner Rudy Kim and associate Albert Rugo.
While on this case, I learned the most by observing Rudy and Albert during our client meetings. It stood out to me how well they were able to explain the application process and answer the clients’ questions. Watching them also showed me how important it is to view things from the clients’ perspective. Once, when I was reviewing a form with the client, I asked a series of questions about the client’s financial situation. Sensing some discomfort at these questions, the attorneys reassured the client that the court only considers these questions to get a fuller picture of their financial situation. Past financial hardship would not disqualify them from obtaining conservatorship. By anticipating the clients’ concerns and viewing it from their perspective, the attorneys were able to put the client at ease. This experience taught me that, no matter the size of the case, building rapport with clients and understanding their point of view is paramount to our work.
From cases like Doe v. Wolf to smaller ones like the conservatorship, pro bono gives us the opportunity to develop our legal and interpersonal skills and give back to the community. I left my previous career as a software engineer in part because I wanted to help people more directly with legal skills rather than programming skills. Learning about the Pro Bono program was one of the highlights of my MoFo experience so far, and I know it will continue to be part of my life as an attorney.
Kacyn Fujii is a Wetmore fellow in the Palo Alto office. She is a rising 2L at Michigan Law School interested in IP litigation. Kacyn got her M.S. in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and her B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College. She likes to dabble in various instruments like melodica and ukulele (she bid on steel drum lessons in the Michigan Law auction for the next time she’s in Ann Arbor).