As a lawyer, I have an ethical duty and a professional responsibility to handle pro bono matters for people who cannot otherwise afford legal counsel. While pro bono work is a professional obligation, a recent experience I had with a pro bono case reminded me about how rewarding pro bono work can be.

A few months ago, I was asked by a federal judge if he could appoint me as counsel for the defendant in a civil case.  The case involved a lawsuit by a woman against her grandmother for a portion of insurance proceeds from a life insurance policy on the plaintiff’s mother (the defendant’s daughter).  The deceased had named her mother as a beneficiary under a life insurance policy, but her daughter (the plaintiff) claimed that the money was intended for her and her brother.  She alleged that their mother never got the opportunity to change the beneficiary designation before she died.  The plaintiff had filed suit in state court against her grandmother and against the insurance company seeking a portion of the life insurance proceeds.  The insurance company removed the case to Federal Court and deposited the proceeds from the policy in the registry of the court.

My client, the grandmother, was an elderly woman from a rural community in another state.  Needless to say, she was distraught by having been sued by her granddaughter and did not know where to turn for help.  While I certainly served as a zealous advocate for her by filing a motion asking the court to order the proceeds to be disbursed to the grandmother because she was the sole named beneficiary under the policy, I also had the opportunity to speak extensively with her granddaughter (the plaintiff) and her grandson.  Ultimately, I was able to negotiate a settlement among the family members for a distribution of the insurance proceeds that they could all live with.  While I don’t think my client will be inviting her grandchildren to Christmas dinner at her house anytime soon, I do believe that through the negotiations, I was able to bridge the divide among these family members. This resulted in incredible personal and professional satisfaction.  Hopefully, the settlement of the case is the start of reconciliation among these family members who suffered a tragic loss.

Handling this case reminded me how enjoyable and satisfying pro bono work can be.