I’ll never be an attorney!

Growing up, I was convinced that I would never be an attorney, let alone see myself working with Legal Aid.  My impression of attorneys was based on what I saw in popular media, where attorneys are often portrayed as brash, loud-mouthed, and generally unscrupulous characters.  As a reserved, quiet kid trying his best to be a good person, it was unimaginable that I would ever be involved in such an immoral line of work.

Naturally, life had different ideas and after college I found myself working as a paralegal.  To my relief, however, my time as a paralegal had shown me that the popular media image of attorneys was greatly exaggerated.  I learned just how valuable legal representation was every time I saw the relief and appreciation on a client’s face after they were helped by the firm’s attorneys. 

Learning that attorneys could actually make people happy was quite the revelation.  This revelation planted the thought in my head that maybe one day, I too could make people happy by helping them as an attorney.  This thought, however, mostly just floated in the back of my head as a dreamy what-if.

In 2014, I was working as a paralegal at a law firm here in Las Vegas.  One day at work, my boss handed me a new bankruptcy client file.  I had never seen it before, which puzzled me because I conducted most of the intake for new bankruptcy clients.  My boss explained that it was a pro bono client file that he had received from the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada

I had never heard the term pro bono before and the confusion must have shown on my face because my boss went on to explain that pro bono cases are cases where the attorney does not charge the client a fee.  Legal Aid, I learned, was an organization that provided representation for people who could not afford an attorney.  Legal Aid would either directly represent clients or connect clients with attorneys willing to donate their services. 

What is Pro Bono?

The concept that attorneys would provide free representation came as a surprise to me.  While my mind had overcome the exaggerated portrayal of attorneys in popular media, it had never occurred to me that an attorney would work for free.  It was simply something I had never heard about. 

The fact that there was an entire organization dedicated to providing free legal services blew my mind.  It was at this point that the thought of becoming an attorney started to evolve into a concrete goal.  If I became an attorney, not only could I make help people and make them happy, but there may even be opportunities for me to do that for free! 

With the enthusiastic encouragement of my boss, plus the fantastic support of my family, I started the process of applying for law school and in 2016 I started my first year at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  First year students at Boyd are required to complete a community service program. 

When I reviewed the list of community service programs, I was delighted to see that one of the options allowed Boyd students to volunteer at Legal Aid.  I picked this option and, together with a group of my fellow students, we would teach weekly, public classes at Legal Aid to help provide legal information.

Teaching at Legal Aid was a great experience that made me even more interested in the organization.  As a result, I applied and was accepted for a summer externship with Legal Aid.  The externship was much more involved than the community service program.  Instead of just teaching a class once a week, I now worked directly with clients and with Legal Aid’s wonderful staff on a day to day basis. 

The externship gave me great insight into the monumental need for pro bono representation in our community.  The work was challenging, but the work was also incredibly rewarding.  My summer externship cemented a desire to someday return to Legal Aid after I became an attorney myself.  I imagined my return to Legal Aid would most likely be in the form of accepting a pro bono case.  It was only in dreams that I imagined that I would return to Legal Aid as part of their staff.  I’m thrilled to be able to achieve that dream thanks to the Community Justice Fellowship!

Paul Padda Law is a proud sponsor of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Community Justice Fellowship.

Guest Blogger:
Wesley Su, Esq.
Attorney with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada