The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (October 20-26). Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community does to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. During the week, we will feature stories of pro bono volunteers.
Nina Orendain is a member of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s investment management practice in Dallas. She advises investment fund clients in conducting private placements, with an emphasis on registration or exemption issues, including Blue Sky review. Orendain is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
What kind of pro bono do you do and how long have you been doing it?
My current pro bono focus is Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, or DVAP, cases for Spanish-speaking clients. Most recently, I have worked on wills and related documents, special warranty deeds, and in the past, I handled a few divorces and name changes.
I also provide translation assistance to my Akin Gump colleagues who are representing Spanish-speaking clients in various immigration, asylum, and other pro bono matters. I have done pro bono work in one form or another since I began practicing law in Dallas in 1981.
Why is pro bono important to you?
It’s in the definition: “legal work donated especially for the public good.” I was raised in a family committed to social justice. My parents gave up their career aspirations to devote their lives (and our childhoods) to the Farmworkers’ Movement in California. Later, my parents remained committed to organizing farmworkers through the founding of the Texas Farm Workers Union in the Rio Grande Valley. At an early age, I saw how education and a profession such as law could be used to help people improve many aspects of their lives. I also lived a life appreciative of volunteer service, including those who supported the Farmworkers’ Movement and the historic grape boycott of the 1960s. Because of my parents’ commitment to community service, our family often relied on the kindness of strangers and volunteers for support. Through my childish view, I dreamt of becoming a “have” while committing to never forget what it was like to be a “have not.” I vowed that I would always help others in any way I could. I choose to use my legal and language skills to do that.
What have you learned from doing pro bono?
I learned that our legal system has a long way to go before becoming fair and accessible, i.e. equal to all, rather than favoring those who have more money. At the same time, I’ve learned that there are many Dallas attorneys and law firms committed to contributing to doing their part to making the legal system more accessible and equitable.
What would you say to an attorney who is thinking about doing pro bono for the first time?
Please just do it. You will get so much more out of it than you give. There’s a personal satisfaction in gaining knowledge and expertise outside your usual practice area, especially when you see the impact it has on your clients. The DVAP mentor attorneys are always there to guide you. They are wonderfully responsive and knowledgeable and great at making you get to where you realize, yes, you can.
Share one of your favorite pro bono success stories.
Several years ago, I was part of a team of Akin Gump attorneys representing a client with a tragic and compelling case seeking U.S. citizenship through the U visa program. I was thrilled to see the matter through to her receiving her citizenship. Immigration matters are personally important to me also because my father did not obtain his citizenship until I was about 8 years old. In addition, while the matters I work on are not “dramatic” or complex, I appreciate their importance to my pro bono clients because many of them continue to call to say “hello” and send thank-you notes.