Public Interest Law Initiative

An Open Letter to PILI Interns, Fellows and Recent Alumni

Posted on: September 12, 2017

C Golbert Full Size
This is a guest post from PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council Chair, Charles P. Golbert. 
Charles is the Cook County Deputy Public Guardian in charge of the Adult Guardianship Division. He was a PILI Fellow at the Public Guardian’s Office in 1990, sponsored by the firm now known as Katten, Muchin and Rosenman. 

Congratulations! You are entering a noble and rewarding profession. As an attorney, you have tremendous ability to contribute to your community, country, and the world. As a PILI Alumnus, you are joining a global network that, in many ways, is a “who’s who” of the public interest bar. I offer these thoughts and suggestions as you start your career, in no particular order of importance.

Do pro bono or public interest work throughout your career. Lawyers have a monopoly on the practice of law, and law is the only self-regulated profession. With this comes responsibility. Moreover, pro bono and public interest work will enrich your practice and your life.

Take charge of your career. If there is an area of practice within your office that interests you, express your interest. If a case comes in the office that you want to work on, tell the supervising attorney or partner. If you do research or write a memo for a case and learn that a deposition or interesting court hearing is coming up, ask if you can participate or at least attend.

Related to the prior point, seek out feedback. Most lawyers want to be good supervisors and mentors, but for a variety of reasons might not always provide you with timely feedback on your work. If that occurs, approach the lawyer to seek feedback and ask if she would like you to perform any follow up work.

Always read the statute. Don’t trust your memory. I don’t care how many cases you’ve litigated under a statute, whenever a new case or issue arises, pull and closely read the statute.

Seek out mentors. I would not be where I am if I wasn’t fortunate to have outstanding teachers and mentors in law school (Len Rabinowitz and Larry Marshall, among many others), private practice (Sheldon Zennor and Sam Isaacson, among many others), and the Public Guardian’s Office (Patrick Murphy and Robert Harris, among many others). They helped me navigate the parts of practice that are not in the statutes or case law, and kept me from making more mistakes than I can count.

Do not approach an ethical dilemma on your own. When you encounter an ethical dilemma, discuss the situation with others including more senior attorneys and mentors. Most ethical lapses occur when the attorney is overly invested in an outcome, is operating under a conflict he might not recognize, has overlooked something, or is otherwise not able to analyze the situation with the necessary detachment.

Become active in bar associations. The law has much to offer you, and the bar associations are your opportunity to give back to the profession and help shape its contours. You will also make friends for life.

Make copies. Never give an original document (or the only copy) to a partner or supervising attorney unless she specifically asks for the original. Nothing more need be said on this point.

Take care of yourself, and be conscious of work/life balance. The law is tremendously rewarding, but is also demanding. Take the time to eat three healthy meals every day, to exercise, to get adequate rest, to do things you enjoy, to read for pleasure, and above all, to spend with family and friends. The work habits you develop now are likely to remain with you for the rest of your career, so get into healthy and mindful habits.

Last, but not least, stay involved in PILI. The Alumni Network Leadership Council is a great way to stay connected to PILI. Mentor a PILI Intern or Fellow in your office. Come to PILI events. Join a PILI Team.

Congratulations again, and welcome to the profession and to PILI’s Alumni Network.

Learn more about PILI’s Alumni Network »

This is part of PILI’s new guest post series. If you are interested in writing a guest post for PILI, contact us.

Stay Connected. Sign Up For Our Newsletter: