In celebration of the National Pro Bono Week, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs interviewed past winners of the HLS Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award who were chosen for their excellence and extraordinary contributions to the public good. Kimberly Newberry, HLS ’14, completed over 2,300 hours of pro bono work with Harvard Defenders, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI), the Housing Clinic, and the Capital Punishment Clinic. Please read the interview with Kimberly below.
OCP: Why did you choose to study law and what sparked your interest in pro bono work?
Newberry: I wanted to study law because I believe that it is one of the most effective ways to implement change, whether it is for an individual client or for an entire group of people. Our legal system has so much power to make a difference, but there is often a major gap between the services available or the potential strategies and the people who need those services and strategies the most. I felt that earning a law degree was a way that I could personally help address that gap in an area that I feel extremely passionate about. As someone who knew coming in to law school that I wanted to go into public interest law, it was also important to me to do pro bono work throughout school so that I could best prepare myself for what I wanted to do after graduation.
OCP: What do you think the biggest learning experiences were?
Newberry: The biggest learning experiences were any that gave me an opportunity to appear in court. Having the chance to go to court as a student was extremely valuable because I do not think I will ever have that level of supervision and support as I often had in my clinics, while at the same time having some degree of responsibility over certain decisions so that I could still learn and take ownership over what I was doing. That is a combination that I think is difficult to replicate once you have a real job. Additionally, going through an entire jury trial before I graduated was a great way to get out of my comfort zone and feel more confident in my post-graduate work. Besides the laundry list of practical skills I developed along the way, becoming an actual attorney is less intimidating now that I have had that experience.
OCP: What do you find most challenging and satisfying about pro bono work?Newberry: For me, the most challenging and most satisfying part of pro bono work is the same thing – the clients. For a variety of reasons, it can be difficult to work with the clients sometimes, whether they have an inherent distrust of anyone involved in the system – including their own lawyers’ or language barriers, or differing priorities, etc. Pro bono work involves a lot of actual legal work, but maintaining client relationships can be the hardest, and most emotional, task. But then when you do get on the same page and you finally earn someone’s trust or get a positive outcome in the case, it is definitely satisfying to know that it all paid off. Sometimes it feels like a smile from a client is a bigger achievement than a win in court – although it is great to get both, too.
OCP: Did your involvement with pro bono work influence or change you long terms goals?
Newberry: I came in knowing that I wanted to go into death penalty appeals, so while my pro bono experiences in law school did not enlighten me as to a specific career path, they did help me confirm my goals and develop the skills I needed to feel prepared for this type of work after graduation. It was really helpful to have multiple opportunities throughout law school to try different types of defense work and interact with the criminal justice system at different stages – the beginning of the process through trial in CJI, appellate work in the death penalty clinic, and parole hearings through PLAP. Having these different experiences helped me feel more confident in my decision that I most enjoy appellate work, and it also gave me broader knowledge of the system as a whole that I hope will benefit my work and my future clients.