Matt Richards was recently appointed as Nixon Peabody’s pro bono partner. We asked Matt to share his vision for the firm’s pro bono program in the year ahead.
Q: What are your top goals for the pro bono program going forward?
A: I want to achieve 100 percent global attorney engagement, and I believe it’s within reach. I want every NP employee to be able to give back to their community in an area they feel passionate about. First and foremost, that means eliminating barriers between us and the great need for legal services that exists in each of our communities.
I want to continue building on what we already do well in our pro bono work, while exploring new partnerships with legal services organizations and clients, new areas of emphasis, and new ways of delivering services. We do a lot of great pro bono work on immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and sustainability through our Legally Green program. I want to see us expand our work in those disciplines, and try new things as well.
Ultimately, our pro bono program should be innovative, creative, and focused on problem-solving for our clients. One great example of this is the way we’re already partnering with our “Let’s Talk” speakers, such as artist Lauren Halsey in Los Angeles and public health expert and activist Dr. Shokooh Miry in San Francisco, on projects of significance to them and to our communities. I want to work closely with our Diversity and Inclusion team and our Innovation Committee to identify more great opportunities like these.
Q: What’s an example of pro bono innovation?
A: I’d like to see Nixon Peabody leverage our national platform to do more work in “pro bono deserts”— cities and states whose residents lack sufficient access to pro bono counsel. We have many attorneys who are admitted in states where we don’t have offices, which gives us a number of unconventional opportunities to provide pro bono legal services where the need is greatest. We shouldn’t limit ourselves by geography.
Seth Levy, Conor McNamara, and I are currently representing a transgender client in a correctional facility in Idaho who is being denied gender-affirming health care in violation of her civil rights. Seth is admitted to practice there, and pro bono attorneys with NP’s level of experience on transgender rights matters are more difficult to find in Idaho than in the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles metropolitan area where our respective offices are located. Through Seth’s connections with local legal aid providers, we were able to take on this high-profile, high-impact case. We’re looking for other opportunities like this throughout the country to make connections and do important work in markets beyond the geographic footprint of our offices.
Q: How is pro bono a part of career development at Nixon Peabody?
A: Pro bono work is obviously an important and meaningful way for us to give back to our communities. But it’s also a great way for attorneys to sharpen their existing skills and build new ones. Pro bono has always been a plus for me in terms of my professional development. When I was a junior associate, it gave me in-court experience, including arguing a case at the Ninth Circuit. When I was a mid-level, it helped me manage my own cases ahead of my peers. As a senior associate, it helped me build subject-matter expertise and develop business. And now, as a partner, I benefit from opportunities to supervise and mentor associates from across my office and the firm that I wouldn’t get in my day-to-day practice.
Q: How do you view the relationship between pro bono attorneys and their clients?
A: As part of the firm’s “Let’s Talk” series, the Nixon Peabody San Francisco office recently hosted Dr. Miry, an accomplished psychologist and advocate for gender equity and minority rights. After she spoke, an audience member asked what people who have various forms of privilege can do to help her advance her work. She said, “Hold the door open, and invite others in.”
I love that answer, because it perfectly encapsulates what each one of us does when we work with our pro bono clients. We are privileged to have good careers and useful skills that can help people change, and sometimes fundamentally alter, their circumstances. I want us to be a firm of door-holders, and I hope that every attorney will find that outlet in providing pro bono service.