The VLP is pleased to share this volunteer feature on Justine Rousseau, originally highlighted through ProBonoNet’s NYC Pro Bono Center. Justine shares her pro bono work and experience throughout her career, including as a volunteer attorney at VLP working on family law matters, and shares some great advice to law students, law graduates and anyone interested in pro bono work.
Prior to opening her own firm, Justine practiced at BigLaw firms including Morrison & Foerster. Before attending law school, Justine worked for ten years in the finance industry. She earned her JD from Georgetown University Law Center and holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Delaware. Justine also has an active pro bono practice. She helps individuals obtain uncontested divorces and represents individuals in child and spousal support matters in Family Court as a volunteer attorney with the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Project (“VLP). Although Justine was new to the area of family law when she started volunteering for the VLP in 2014, she dove right in and consistently accepted several clients at once. Justine also assists individuals in various family matters as a volunteer attorney with NY Court’s Access to Justice program.
On the professional benefits of volunteering: “One of the areas of law I law wanted to learn more about was family law…VLP provided the training and additional resources through the staff attorneys that allowed me to learn the law and gain courtroom experience in a supportive environment all the while helping those in need.”
VLP: Tell us about yourself: your background, education, and the nature of your practice.
JR: I am originally from Garden City, Long Island, but have adopted Brooklyn as my home. After graduating from the University of Delaware with a BS in Business Administration, I worked for ten years in commercial real estate finance. I then received my JD Georgetown University Law Center. After law school I worked a large international law firm. I loved the firm and the experience, but I had such broad interests that narrowing my focus was a challenge. I eventually opened my own firm to give me the flexibility to indulge in many of the areas of law that interested me and where I thought I could make more of a discernible impact. My practice focuses on commercial litigation and corporate law.
VLP: How did you first get involved with pro bono work and what types of pro bono cases have you handled?
JR: I first became in pro bono work at my first law firm. The firm was very supportive of pro bono activities. I assisted in obtaining a domestic violence order of protection for a party in DC and I also helped a non-profit explain complicated federal consumer finance laws to clients. When I opened my own firm, I increased my pro bono work as a way to gain a breadth of practical experience in some of the areas of law that interested me in my early years as an attorney, which were not an option at my previous firms.
VLP: Has your pro bono work at the VLP assisted you professionally?
JR: VLP helped me tremendously. One of the areas of law I wanted to learn more about was family law and thought that it might be a focus for my new firm. VLP provided the training and additional resources through the staff attorneys that allowed me to learn the law and gain courtroom experience in a supportive environment all the while helping those in need. I gained confidence in my oral argument skills. I also learned that family law is a great pro bono activity for me, but not a focus of my practice.
VLP: Why do you continue to do pro bono at the Brooklyn VLP?
JR: Because the clients are great and so are the staff!
VLP: What advice would you give to law students or recent law graduates?
JR: I would encourage law students to do an internship or externship every semester after their first year. A breadth of experience will increase your efficacy in whatever area you wind up practicing in and it will also help you refine what you want. I would also encourage all law students, recent law graduates to be present and actually think through your career steps in a thoughtful manner. There is a difference between going with your gut and going with the flow.
VLP: Why is it important to do pro bono work?
JR: With great power comes great responsibility. As an attorney, I sometimes feel powerless, when an argument doesn’t go my way or when an opposing party is successful in delaying the case. But I remind myself of all of the times that I have sat in the back of a courtroom and watched pro se litigants try to represent themselves, I am reminded of the power that comes with my proficiency in the language of the law, and how important it is to share that power with those without the resources to obtain it themselves.