New Eckert Seamans Pro Bono Chair Looks To Build Bridges

By James Boyle | December 15, 2023, 7:27 PM EST ·

As he takes over as the new chair of the firm's pro bono committee, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC attorney Joshua Hill says he is looking to adopt a more holistic, firmwide approach to identifying and assigning pro bono projects.

smiling man in suit

Joshua Hill

While the firm's pro bono efforts have in the past been more siloed in individual offices, Hill told Law360 in a recent interview that he hoped a greater amount of coordination would give Eckert Seamans' executive committee a better grasp of overall performance.

"Previously, the approach from office to office was different, with each office responsible for their own pro bono tracking opportunities," Hill, a member of the firm's Philadelphia office, said. "New firm management wanted a more universal approach and to get more offices involved."

Community service has been ingrained in Hill's career even before entering law school, as he volunteered for AmeriCorps. After earning his law degree from Penn State Dickinson Law in 2005, Hill spent more than three years as an attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

He joined Eckert Seamans in 2009 and developed a practice focused on representing clients in civil litigation, government investigations, and white-collar criminal defense. Hill also assists clients on rules and regulations involved in doing business in Iran and Cuba.

As an attorney, Hill's public service work has included working as a volunteer with the Support Center for Child Advocates and Philadelphia VIP, an organization providing legal advice to low-income residents. Hill has also served as a volunteer mentor for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program.

"We are thrilled to have Josh step into this leadership position for the firm's pro bono efforts," David Laigaie, who previously chaired Eckert Seamans' pro bono committee, said in a statement. "We are confident in his ability to guide our attorneys as they strive to uphold the firm's commitment to pro bono work, and to grow the firm's opportunities to serve the community."

Hill recently took time out to speak with Law360 about leading Eckert Seamans' pro bono committee and his plans to seek out new opportunities in the communities where the firm maintains its 15 offices.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you want to take on the role of chair of the pro bono committee?

Pro bono is vital to every attorney's practice. I want to encourage associates to be involved in pro bono matters. A good way to do that is to reach out to the pro bono providers in each of the areas we serve and build a directory of those opportunities. Associates these days are looking for more client interactions and court appearances, and they are fewer and farther between. This is an opportunity to have more of those appearances and interactions.

By setting up the committee to have a directory for associates, they won't be on their own looking for those opportunities. This will also be a better tool for internally tracking who is doing pro bono work and where, and we can provide the executive committee with real-time stats.

This is a firmwide position, not just in Philadelphia. Is there an overarching philosophy to the firm's pro bono work, or is it led more by each office and the communities where they're located?

The goal is to get a firmwide initiative going and have the ability to say what we do with our pro bono work with the stats to back that up, rather than a patchwork of pro bono work. It is important to have a member or associate that can identify providers in their region and who can provide expertise and knowledge of the area.

Currently, the firm offers 50 hours of pro bono credit. My goal is to increase that and give more incentive to engage in the opportunities.

How is pro bono work assigned at the firm? Can an attorney decide autonomously what they are going to do?

Currently, we have practice group leaders approve individual projects when they are presented with opportunities. Our attorneys contact an intake person at a legal aid center who will provide them with a case file and a supporting attorney to contact. If there is an associate or member who has a project they want to engage in, they will take it to the practice group leader.

By identifying two or three pro bono resources in each region and developing a partnership that funnels more opportunities, we will be more coordinated than having a hodgepodge of projects.

You previously served as a public defender in Philadelphia. Has that work shaped your approach to pro bono cases?

It is definitely rewarding to provide services to those who cannot afford it. Prior to my legal career, I was a volunteer at AmeriCorps out in San Diego on a variety of projects. When I moved to Philadelphia, I joined the district attorney's office as an administrator of its diversion program, which meant doing things like leading conflict resolution classes.

I was part of that program prior to law school, and it was important seeing real results of that work. That's what I enjoy about pro bono, seeing those results immediately, and people are very appreciative of it.

Has pro bono fallen to the wayside in recent years, with the pandemic and other economic hardships?

I can't speak for other firms, but I know support center cases stayed strong throughout the pandemic. We were in court and on Zoom doing cases regularly. With the committee, Eckert Seamans is making its pro bono footprint even greater.

For young associates, pro bono work is very important because it brings peace of mind as they are giving back. From a practice standpoint, it kills two birds with one stone by giving them one-on-one client interaction and providing them good work that makes them better attorneys.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

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