For a new attorney, several reasons might serve as deterrents to taking on a pro bono case: it might be a lot of work; it’s likely an area of law the attorney knows little about; or maybe it’s just difficult to know where to begin. But Kelly Lloyd Lankford has experienced firsthand the benefits of pro bono work, and wants to reassure other young attorneys that it can be a positive experience.
Kelly is a Senior Managing Associate at Dentons. She is a member of the firm’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice and Insurance sector group, focusing on commercial litigation and complex insurance and reinsurance disputes. On the commercial litigation side, she handles business to business disputes, fraud claims, and breaches of contract. Kelly has volunteered with VLJ for the past several years and recently accepted a position as co-chair of VLJ’s Generation Now, made up of young attorneys who plan fundraisers, volunteer recognition, and networking events on behalf of VLJ. Kelly will be co-chairing the committee with Kaitlyn Stone, an Associate at Gibbons.
Kelly obtained her undergraduate degree from Ramapo College and her law degree from Seton Hall Law School. She first worked at Lowenstein Sandler, then at McCarter and English, before joining Dentons in 2017.
While at McCarter, Kelly took on pro bono matters related to Superstorm Sandy, representing homeowners who had suffered losses to their primary residences in the storm but who were experiencing complications in their insurance claims. Kelly also handled one of the first cases in which a victim of trafficking in New Jersey was successfully able to vacate her prior criminal record. “I’ve found these cases to be some of the absolute most rewarding ones that I’ve ever done,” Kelly said.
Kelly acknowledged that taking on a pro bono matter, especially in a new area of law, could be intimidating. “But working with the VLJ team,” said Kelly, “I felt like there was a resource to help with questions that came up along the way, or to consult with about strategy, and I think that’s really great.” In particular, she appreciated the opportunity to attend a thorough training on interviewing trauma victims prior to taking on a human trafficking case.
In addition to her work with VLJ, Kelly has also handled asylum cases, two with Human Rights First representing Syrian refugees and another with Make the Road New York representing a client who had fled drug cartels in Honduras.
Kelly has always had an interest in pro bono work. “There’s so much unmet need for legal representation,” she said. “Unfortunately, people who aren’t familiar with the legal system and aren’t represented often get treated a lot differently in our system than people who have an advocate helping them put together their case and tell their story. Legal services are so expensive that a lot of people don’t get the help they need and don’t know what they’re entitled to.” In addition to helping unrepresented clients, pro bono work can provide a benefit for the attorneys as well: “I think as an attorney, you learn skills through pro bono that you don’t always learn in your regular practice, at least not at a junior level,” said Kelly. “You learn a lot about interviewing a client, gathering the relevant facts, and figuring out what’s critical to your case. It’s a great opportunity.”
“Kelly has been an amazing supporter of VLJ for many years now,” said VLJ’s Executive Director Cathy Keenan. “From working on one of our first trafficking-related cases to her involvement in VLJ’s Generation Now, Kelly is a wonderful example of the dedicated attorneys we have volunteering with us.”
Kelly is excited to begin her position as co-chair of the Generation Now Committee. “I think pro bono offers so many opportunities for more junior attorneys to get involved, and helping them realize the different types of work that VLJ does and understand that VLJ will be there to mentor them if they take a case is huge,” says Kelly. “I also think it could be great for attorneys who aren’t at a firm but whose employers are really supportive of pro bono to reach out to them and help them get involved.”