Public Spirit derived from Public Spirited:
Shanna M. Cohn is a long-time volunteer team leader with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Pro Se Plus Divorce Clinic, a monthly two-session workshop that provides legal information to current or prospective unrepresented litigants seeking divorces in D.C. Shanna leads the training presentations on divorce and coordinates contacs with other volunteer attorneys, legal professionals, and law students for the Clinic.
Shanna is a corporate associate resident in Fried Frank’s Washington, D.C. office. She joined the Firm in 2006. Her practice focuses primarily on asset management with particular emphasis on the structuring and offering of private equity funds, funds-of-funds, and other alternative investment products. Prior to joining Fried Frank, Shanna served as a staff attorney for the Tennessee Department of Human Services and as an associate in the corporate and energy regulatory practices, respectively, at two D.C.-based firms.
“Shanna is an exceptional volunteer with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Pro-Se-Divorce Clinic. We are very grateful to her for her longstanding commitment to explaining divorce law to unrepresented litigants in a clear and concise manner. She touches people’s lives when they are at a particularly vulnerable juncture and she helps remove much of the uncertainty at this critical time,” said Lise Adams, managing attorney of the Pro Bono Program’s family law efforts.
Ally Amerson, Project Coordinator, and Angela Boone, Development Manager--both of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program--take a few minutes to speak with Shanna about her experience working with the Pro Se Plus Divorce Clinic.
PBP: How did you get involved with the Pro Bono Program’s Pro-Se-Plus Divorce Clinic?
SC: When I returned to the D.C. area and started with Fried Frank, I was interested in participating in pro bono work. Although I had clerked years ago, I was concerned that I did not have a recent litigation background. The Pro-Se-Plus Divorce Clinic appealed to me because it is a focused, information-based Clinic in which I can assist larger groups of people. Even though family law is outside my practice area, since the Clinic seeks to provide information as opposed to legal advice, I can be comfortable that I can stay within the parameters of the Clinic and still be helpful to the participants.
PBP: How does the Clinic work and what is your role?
SC: We explain what the divorce process entails, how much it will cost, and what steps people can take on their own. So, we are able to help people get started who otherwise might feel as if they are priced out of legal services. The Pro Bono Program provides me with a list of volunteers for the month, and I get in touch with each of them and coordinate who will present each topic (e.g., grounds for divorce, filing requirements, service of process, etc.) to the participants.
PBP: How many times a year do you volunteer?
SC: About ten sessions a year, either on two consecutive Saturdays or two consecutive Thursdays.
PBP: Tell us about what you do in your day job and how your volunteer experience is different.
SC: My practice area is asset management; so, I spend my days focusing on transactions involving private equity funds, regulatory issues, and financial services and investment issues. My volunteer experience is very, very different. It’s much more personal. Participants come in with lots of thoughts and feelings. Likely because of my transactional background, I am able to help them take a step back and sort through the legal issues, the decision-making process, and the resources they might not have considered, such as mediation. Nearly every time I volunteer, someone will tell me how much we’ve helped them.
PBP: Do you have any advice for prospective Pro Bono Program volunteers?
SC: I do. I approached the Pro Bono Program by asking myself: “Where can I do the most good; where can I help people?” Many volunteers first respond to my initial contact email by immediately noting “I’m not a family law lawyer.” Not to worry, you do not have to focus on your own area of expertise, because the Pro Bono Program has resources that will fill in substantive gaps in your knowledge. If you are willing to serve, there is a role for you play.
PBP: Do you have a memorable experience that has come out of your work at the Clinic?
SC: Recently, family members traveled all the way from North Carolina to D.C., so that they could receive information at the Clinic applicable to their D.C. case. The distance they had traveled really impressed upon me the need that people have for this Clinic, and how much they are willing to extend themselves to get the help they need.
PBP: What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
SC: When I first arrived at Fried Frank in 2006, my mentor at the firm advised me to consider, in every situation, “how am I adding value?” Not every task is going to seem to be the most riveting and not every experience is going to be positive. Nonetheless, be present, engaged, and aware of how you are contributing to the situation and what you can get out of it. This approach helps me even in some of the most stressful situations.
PBP: Anything else that you would like to share with your fellow D.C. Bar members about your experience with the Pro Bono Program?
SC: Check out the various programs that are offered by the Pro Bono Program. I am positive that no matter your area of interest, you can find something that is worthwhile and is valuable—not just for the people whom you are helping—but also really valuable for yourself. For example, the Clinic not only has helped me by providing the immediate fulfillment of knowing that I have assisted people navigating a life-altering event, but it also has helped my law practice by giving me opportunities to think about how to translate legal concepts and jargon into language that non-lawyers can understand easily.
PBP: Besides volunteering for the Pro Bono Program, how else do you like to spend your free time in Washington?
SC: As you can imagine, with an often busy schedule, I do not have a great deal of free time, but I like to try new outings with friends. D.C. has so many interesting locations and restaurants—particularly restaurants—that were not around years ago; so, trying a new place is a great way to spend our time and catch up.
PBP: Do you have a go-to lunch spot?
SC: I like Chop’t. It’s the way I get my vegetables!
Learn more about the Pro-Se-Plus Divorce Clinic and other volunteer opportunities at the Pro Bono Program.
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