For the last decade, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has been making pro bono appointments through the “Plan for the Representation of Pro Se Litigants in Civil Cases.” See General Order 596. These pro bono appointments provide many benefits to the community including trial advocacy development in meaningful cases for attorneys, greater access to justice for litigants, and assistance with case management for the Court. Pro bono service also has an additional benefit: “It can strengthen your connection to your community and serve as a great reminder of what initially inspired you to become a lawyer.”
The vast majority of the cases referred to the District Court’s Pro Bono Panel consist of civil rights cases filed by state prisoners challenging the conditions of their confinement, as well as related claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Pro Bono Plan addresses a significant and persistent need for our community given that cases filed by indigent prisoners without the assistance of counsel make up approximately 25% of all cases filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California.
Volunteers for the Pro Bono Panel have had impactful experiences that furthered their careers. Peter Stockburger, partner at Dentons, explains that volunteering for the Pro Bono Panel is “a very smooth process.” He observes that “some attorneys are hesitant to volunteer for pro bono service because they are not an expert in the applicable law.” However, Mr. Stockburger contends: “A volunteer attorney does not have to be an expert. Once you are in the program there are many resources available to you. You are not alone.” He hopes that attorneys will overcome their hesitancy and give volunteer service a chance because “this is such a valuable pro bono experience compared to so many others because attorneys can get real trial experience in federal court while giving back to their community.”
Long-time volunteer, Melissa Bobrow, founder of Law Office of Melissa Bobrow APC, first joined the program because she wanted an opportunity to appear in front of federal judges. Ms. Bobrow reflects that the experience has been “invaluable.” Her frequent efforts volunteering for pro bono appointments led to an opportunity to work with the late Hon. Magistrate Judge David H. Bartick to improve the process of pro se plaintiffs filing complaints. She continues to recommend this experience for fellow attorneys, explaining: “The chance to negotiate, settle, or try a case for a younger attorney, under these conditions, is something every litigator should experience. Akin to how everyone should be in the food service industry at one point in their life.”
Abbas Kazerounian, founding partner of Kazerouni Law Group, APC, explains that the Pro Bono Panel provides him with a unique opportunity to train associates at his firm: “A newer attorney can second chair a case, and for someone fresh out of law school, it’s exciting, it’s the big leagues.” He has found that the lessons newer attorneys learn through pro bono trial service provides them with beneficial perspective by teaching “the importance of doing pretrial work and properly working up a case. You never again take anything for granted.” Personally, Mr. Kazerounian appreciates the tremendous gratitude from the Court, reflecting: “Judges are very grateful, and they pay attention when you do these cases. It makes you feel good, and it shows them that there are attorneys who really care.”
The Federal Bar Association, San Diego Chapter has been a longtime supporter of the Pro Bono Panel. The Chapter partnered with the Court and other representatives from the local bar to form the first panel of volunteer law firms and attorneys in 2011. More recently, this Chapter showed its continued support for the program by creating the “Distinguished Service Award,” which provides that significant weight will be given to not only service to the FBA, but also volunteer programs offered by the Court such as the Pro Bono Panel. The FBA proudly continues to encourage the federal bar to volunteer their service.
If you are interested in serving your Court and community, as well as growing as a litigator, please reach out to Pro Bono Administrator Karen Beretsky at (619) 557-5693 or ProBonoAdministrator@casd.uscourts.gov.
By: Rebecca G. Church, President of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and past volunteer for the Pro Bono Panel.
 Eight Reasons Why Lawyers Should Provide Pro Bono Services, CALIFORNIA JUDICIAL COUNCIL (June 2, 2021).
 Appointments in these civil cases are made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), and not pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act. Necessary expenses may be reimbursed pursuant to Civil Local Rule 83.8(a)(2) and 54.l(b) and prevailing parties may seek an award of attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
 See United States District Courts — National Judicial Caseload Profile, DISTRICT COURT ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE U.S. COURT’S FEDERAL COURT MANAGEMENT STATISTICS (May 22, 2021).