When Wendy Atrokhov moved from the D.C. office of Latham & Watkins to the Moscow office in 2002, she was able to adjust fairly easily to life outside the U.S. But there was one aspect of working overseas that bothered her.
“Having started at Latham in D.C., I had the good fortune to work on a number of pro bono matters from my earliest days at the firm,” said Wendy, now Latham’s Public Service Counsel. “I really loved doing the work, and my experience on these matters benefited me in everything I did. When I moved to a country with no tradition of pro bono, it was a challenge.”
Rather than resigning herself to the lack of pro bono opportunities, Wendy struck up connections with a group of like-minded expat attorneys from different firms – people who, she says, “felt this void and wanted to develop a pro bono culture in Moscow.”
The group met periodically, but had difficulty getting pro bono programs off the ground without a pipeline of opportunities. Then, in 2007, PILNet, the global network for public interest law, came to Moscow to set up a pro bono clearinghouse. Having worked closely with PILNet to launch its first European Pro Bono Forum that same year, Latham was among the first firms to participate in the clearinghouse.
“It was perfect timing because we had a group of attorneys ready to engage,” Wendy said. “PILNet came in and performed the critical outreach, screening and referral function required to develop a consistent pipeline of pro bono work.”
In her current position as Latham’s Public Service Counsel, Wendy remains focused on ensuring that Latham’s pro bono program is global in scope. “We are active worldwide and adhere to same standards for new matter intake across all offices,” she said. Pro bono committee members in firm offices across the globe are critical to the success of Latham’s pro bono program, which accounted for 173,000 pro bono hours last year across 13 countries. “The emergence of more international pro bono referral organizations has also been an important component, although demand for pro bono work among our attorneys still often exceeds supply outside the U.S.,” she noted.
“Overall, the vast majority of what we do is devoted to direct representation of low-income individuals and families,” Wendy said. “We also focus on broader projects, including in areas such as anti-human trafficking” that leverage the firm’s breadth.
As Public Service Counsel, a role she assumed in 2011, Wendy oversees administration of the firm’s pro bono program worldwide, together with Latham’s Pro Bono Committee and Committee Chair. She approves all new pro bono matters, works to develop new tools, policies, strategies and firm-wide initiatives, and maintains key relationships with national and global partners. It’s a lot, she acknowledges, “but because we have such an active pro bono committee it’s manageable.”
The growth of international pro bono is one of the main trends in pro bono today, Wendy said, along with the increasing use of pro bono as a tool for professional development.
“It’s been amazing to witness the accelerated development of international pro bono,” Wendy says. “There’s really no tradition of pro bono in most non-U.S. markets, but the attorneys have gravitated to this work almost universally and with amazing enthusiasm.”