We are pleased to present a Q&A with Jonathan Wong, Donahue Fitzgerald LLP, an employment lawyer, longtime VLSC volunteer, and recipient of the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC) award for Pro Bono Leadership. This is the final spotlight in the series of Q&A’s with this year’s award recipients. Jonathan will receive his award tomorrow, May 22, 2014 at Justice for All: Celebrating Pro Bono, VLSC’s annual volunteer recognition and fundraising event. A reception and silent auction will precede the dinner program and awards presentation. To see what exciting auction items you will be able to bid on.
Why do you volunteer with VLSC?
I started volunteering because our firm signed up to take cases, and I was assigned one as a junior associate. I kept volunteering because I had a rewarding experience with that first case. This is why it is so important that law firms support pro bono from the top down with a written pro bono policy. Had I not been assigned that first case, I might never have even known about VLSC, much less volunteered on my own, and then I would have missed out on so many rewarding experiences.
Do you have a particularly memorable VLSC client or pro bono case?
My first VLSC case was also my second court appearance ever. We had reached an agreement setting aside the client’s default and dismissing the action against the client in exchange for a stipulated judgment against the client’s spouse. I appeared before Horace Wheatley in the old Municipal Courthouse next to the police station. When my case was called, I was so nervous I could hardly stand. I choked out my name, stammered out the settlement, and asked the court to set aside the default and dismiss the case against the client. Judge Wheatley nodded gravely and intoned, “The motion to set aside the default is granted. The motion to dismiss [client XXX] is granted.” I felt a great rush of relief, and in the excitement of the moment, I forgot to sit down. The judge waited patiently, then asked, “is there anything else, counsel?” “No, your Honor,” I said, “thank you.” Judge Wheatley looked right at me, gave me a large smile, and said, “you’re welcome.” For the first time, I felt like a Real Lawyer. Years later, I ran into Judge Wheatley at a Gumbo Cookoff, and told him that story. I thanked him for making me feel like a Real Lawyer. He smiled that same smile, and said, “you’re welcome.”
What other community activities are you involved in?
All of my volunteering right now is for VLSC, but I support other legal services organizations financially. Volunteering is important, and volunteers should be recognized for their time and commitment, but if you don’t have the time to volunteer, you can still do good work in your community by financially supporting the organizations that do good work in your community.
What are you listening to on your iPod now?
I don’t have an iPod, but the CD spinning in my laptop is Oscar Peterson’s Night Train, (Verve, 1997).
What is one thing that you wished other people knew about VLSC?
VLSC is a true volunteer-based organization. 100% of the services provided are provided through unpaid attorney volunteers, so there is real bang for your donation buck. Also, the organization has an awesome staff.
For more information on volunteering with VLSC or to donate, please visit the VLSC page on the ACBA website.