Inside Track: Pro Bono Spotlight: Priya Barnes Finds Value of Helping Others and Learning on the Job:

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  • January

    Pro Bono Spotlight: Priya Barnes Finds Value of Helping Others and Learning on the Job

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    Priya BarnesJan. 7, 2014 – After spending almost two decades working in the business world of marketing and communications, Priya Barnes made a career change, deciding that she wanted to become a Wisconsin lawyer. After graduating from Marquette University Law School in 2013, she faced a choice that many young lawyers experience: how to build a solo law practice at a time of great economic uncertainty.

    In this brief Q & A with Barnes, learn how pro bono work is helping this young attorney develop her skills while giving back to her community.

    How did you get started with pro bono work?

    My interest in public service began well before law school at Marquette University Law School. I’ve always been a big believer in giving back to the community. Even though I was in the part-time evening program, I made a point to obtain as practical experience as I could through internships. I also volunteered with the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic (MVLC) at the Milwaukee Justice Center. I really enjoyed helping people.

    What sort of pro bono work have you been doing?

    Most of my pro bono work involves representing clients referred through the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) at Legal Action of Wisconsin. I like the fact that the cases have already been screened for financial need and the summaries provided help me decide whether a given case is something I would feel comfortable handling. My VLP cases have primarily involved Chapter 7 bankruptcies or domestic violence. The State Public Defender’s office is my other main source of pro bono clients.

    How has pro bono work helped you in your practice?

    It is personally fulfilling to know that I have helped a client solve a legal problem, and even more so when the client is low income and vulnerable. Giving back to my community is the primary motivator for me. But I do also get valuable practice experience from my pro bono cases. I'm a new lawyer, so getting more experience is pretty important. My clients get the legal help they need but can’t afford and I advance my skills in the process. I have a general practice, so I handle a range of issues including some bankruptcy, family and juvenile law and small business advice. I especially enjoy the area of bankruptcy work, because it is structured, but still allows for creativity in addressing a client’s unique issues. My pro bono cases in this area have reinforced my interest in learning and doing more in this area of practice.

    About the State Bar Pro Bono Initiative

    The State Bar Pro Bono Initiative is a statewide-coordinated program to support, recognize, and increase lawyers’ volunteer legal efforts. In collaboration with the judiciary, legal services providers, and local bar organizations, the initiative works to improve public access to the legal system by promoting solutions that eliminate barriers to effective access to the civil justice system.

    The Pro Bono Initiative, developed by the Legal Assistance Committee and approved by the Board of Governors in May 2004, has been a steady source of State Bar support for pro bono in Wisconsin. In addition to startup grants, it also encompasses a number of member benefits such as free malpractice insurance coverage for volunteer service in State Bar-sponsored pro bono projects and reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses that members incur handling pro bono cases (filing fees, mileage, copying, etc.).

    Find out more about how to volunteer and the benefits available at

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