Natalie Smeltzer Fortenberry Natalie Smeltzer Fortenberry, an associate of Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, found her passion for pro bono service while working with African development nonprofits. A committed participant in the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, she is now a corporate law attorney who believes there is always time to help those in need. How did you get started doing pro bono work? I was offered a full-time position in the corporate practice group of Weil, Gotshal & Manges after clerking there during law school. Just before graduation, the firm contacted me about deferring my start date due to the 2008 financial crisis. Given the situation with the market, it made sense to me, and more importantly, I saw this as an amazing opportunity. The firm offered a stipend in exchange for my commitment to perform 1,000 hours of pro bono service. I spent over a year working for two nonprofit organizations focused on development in Africa: Kibo Group and MANA Nutrition. Why do you think pro bono work is important? As attorneys, I believe we have a duty to those who cannot afford legal representation or don’t have a voice of their own. We have a skill that we can easily use to give back. How has your background influenced your pro bono efforts? After my deferral year, I knew that I had gone to law school for a reason. Although I chose to continue my career in the private sector, I immediately got involved in pro bono when starting at Weil. In 2014, I served as the firm’s “lend-a-lawyer” to the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, where I spent three months working full time for DVAP and handling a variety of civil law cases. Are there any misconceptions about pro bono? There is no time to do it! I completely disagree. The great thing about pro bono is there is something for everyone. I always encourage new attorneys to find a pro bono cause they are passionate about, and then it won’t seem taxing. How do you balance pro bono cases with your regular workload? There are incredible resources at my firm and nonprofits throughout Dallas and the state. With the support of programs such as DVAP, I find I can handle the cases. Describe a memorable pro bono experience. In 2011, I took on my first pro bono case with DVAP. It was a custody case for a grandmother caring for her granddaughter. Throughout the case, I became close with the child’s aunt as well. After finalizing the case, and parting ways with my clients, I thought I would never see them again. Then in 2014, right before I was going to start as a lend-a-lawyer, the aunt called and asked if I could help with a custody modification. So I was able to represent the family again. After finishing the second case, the family said, “Natalie, you aren’t just our lawyer, you are our friend.” It really doesn’t get any better than that. TBJ
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