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Q&A With Eamon Joyce

“I wouldn’t be the lawyer I am today but for the pro bono opportunities I have had.”


We recently sat down with Sidley’s new Firmwide Pro Bono Chair, Eamon Joyce, who discussed his trajectory as a lawyer at Sidley and how pro bono matters facilitate relationship-building and career development.

You have been involved in pro bono work since you first joined Sidley in 2002. How have the firm’s pro bono efforts evolved over time?

EJ: When I joined the firm as an associate, I was mostly exposed to the local pro bono clinics in which the Washington, D.C. office participated. I didn’t have a sense of the reach between Sidley’s offices, or across programs, until I was a mid-level associate and we took on the massive Capital Litigation project in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative. There was immediate cross-office support, which crystallized for me just how interconnected our offices’ pro bono efforts were. Flash forward to me becoming a partner here and then becoming the New York Pro Bono Chair, and now the Firmwide Pro Bono Chair, and it has become increasingly apparent to me that our pro bono programs are incredibly robust.

Another big shift that I’ve seen is the engagement of our transactional lawyers in pro bono matters. They have many opportunities in which they can apply their legal skills, including helping underserved populations, individuals launching charitable organizations, and small or nascent businesses that need assistance negotiating contracts.

What are some of the ways Sidley supports lawyers who take on pro bono cases?

EJ: Our lawyers are very good at understanding that pro bono matters are as significant as any other stripe of their work. One of the most exciting things about pro bono work, but also one of the most challenging, is the connection one has to one’s clients. In New York, we did a training for our new first-year associates, together with one of our partner organizations, Sanctuary for Families, around what it means to represent a client who has been traumatized or is actively undergoing trauma; what it means to experience derivative trauma; and to actually gain strength through representing these clients as they have persevered. We want to show our associates and partners that there is a real community of people here who have represented clients in similar situations and can be a resource.

How have recent geographic, cultural, and social justice events around the world impacted the kinds of pro bono matters Sidley takes on?

EJ: In 2020, when racial justice issues became a real flashpoint, we took on some pretty prominent matters right off the bat. We were responding to a particular cultural moment, but I think what’s more significant is that we have long been ahead of this curve in various ways.

The Capital Litigation project that we took on, now almost 20 years ago, is deeply impacted by racial and economic disparities. The death penalty defendants in Alabama we represent have often grown up in very challenging familial situations and economic conditions. Many have suffered from mental health issues, abuse, and domestic violence.

Our Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights work is similar in terms of the communities that are affected and the type of people we represent who are seeking asylum.

Additionally, our Veterans Advocacy matters often involve clients from disadvantaged backgrounds who became injured while in service and sought our support when the system has failed them.

What are some ways that Sidley’s programs stand apart, in particular for young lawyers who have an interest in pro bono work?

EJ: Several of our offices have pro bono fellowship programs that pair incoming associates with legal nonprofits. Having the hands-on connection to our soon-to-be-lawyers for an extended period of time gives our nonprofit partner organizations a sense of how important this work is to us. I think that speaks really well of our talent and of us as a pro bono partner. We have ongoing relationships with many of our partner organizations, and have ended up increasing our offerings over the years.

Our partnerships with billable clients in handling pro bono work, including clinics, together also continue to grow, so much so that we can hardly satisfy the demand from our billable clients. The same issues that made us introspective in 2020 and onward have done the same for a lot of businesses, and more specifically, the lawyers working at those businesses.

Is there a pro bono achievement that you are most proud of?

EJ: I wouldn’t be the lawyer I am today but for the pro bono opportunities I have had, which really allowed me to grow. At this stage of my pro bono work, I look less at the achievement and more at how we were able to represent the client. I represented an innocent client who was on death row in Alabama for well over a decade until he, unfortunately, died of natural causes as a very young man.

There was a good chance we were going to get him a new trial and ultimately, I think, would’ve gotten him out of prison. He never got to see that result, but he was able to see, day in and day out, for more than a decade, lawyers fighting for him. I’ll always reflect on that as my greatest accomplishment, just ensuring that somebody had the representation that they deserved. There was something uplifting about being able to speak at his funeral to tell his family that I knew that he was innocent of the offense for which he’d been imprisoned and on death row for decades, and I hope that brought them some peace.