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VIP in Action Published September 9, 2021

The Power of Pro Bono Mentorship

Jessica Amoroso, a VIP volunteer attorney, contributed this post about her experience with her VIP mentor. Click here to view available VIP cases and request a mentor.

What does it mean to be a mentor? And what can true mentorship achieve for the mentee?

As lawyers, having a mentor can make all the difference navigating the unexpected twists and turns that the legal field will inevitably bring. We are all too (unfortunately) familiar with the phrase “time is money.” Volunteering your time with Philadelphia VIP can provide two empowering benefits: protecting the legal rights of Philadelphia residents, and mentoring legal advocates providing community-based representation.

As VIP volunteers, lawyers have the opportunity to provide pro bono representation to Philadelphia residents facing legal challenges in a variety of matters: business creation, general insurance defense, landlord/tenant, debt collection, and other civil matters that significantly affect aspects of everyday life. To enrich this representation, seasoned attorneys can serve as mentors to volunteer attorneys in their respective practice areas. Mentors therefore serve as a legal sounding board from which attorney volunteers can curtail case strategy to be better informed. Mentors also provide perspectives directly from past experience representing clients, likely in the same jurisdiction, or even before the same judge, factors that will certainly elevate case representation. This is exactly what VIP’s mentorship program provided me.

Four years ago, along with my co-counsel, I volunteered to represent a Philly resident being sued after a car accident. At the time, I was a new solo practitioner with limited resources and only some experience litigating general insurance defense matters. This case presented a few legal twists: my client rented their vehicle, was uninsured, and the rental company was not yet named in the lawsuit. At the outset, we planned a strategy, but sought mentorship as a way to bolster our advocacy and to better navigate the procedural nuisances this case presented.

VIP connected us with a seasoned litigator, Victoria Komarnicki, Member of Bennett, Bricklin & Saltzburg LLC. Once paired, Ms. Komarnicki offered to meet to discuss our proposed case strategy and answer our initial case inquiries. Throughout the entirety of our representation, the mentorship we received was invaluable. Knowing we had the guidance from a seasoned litigator embedded confidence into our representation. Most importantly, it centered legal strategy through the lens of a seasoned practitioner, and ultimately, this enhanced the advocacy we provided and we successfully facilitated a favorable outcome for the client.

Do not hesitate to ask questions of and discuss strategy with more senior attorneys, and make time to watch them in action. Ask to attend client meetings, depositions, oral arguments, settlement and pretrial conferences, and trials — all help you to develop our own style in and out of the courtroom. I enjoyed mentoring Jessica because she was eager to learn and help her client solve her legal problems. That is what we do as attorneys.
— Victoria M. Komarnicki, Esquire

I am a much better advocate because of the mentorship I received through VIP’s program. Although the legal case concluded years ago, our relationship has remained. Since then, Ms. Komarnicki has generously continued to entertain many of my inquiries. To any attorneys out there asking how they can better contribute to the Philadelphia community, I urge you to consider taking on a VIP case and/or serving as a mentor whenever possible. In doing so, you are strengthening the advocacy of pro bono service and protecting the rights of Philadelphians in the civil court system.

Yes, the reality is that time is money. At VIP, however, we can use our time as power — either as volunteer attorneys, or as mentors to help volunteers bolster their representation. This will help chip away at the imbalance of power in the Philadelphia civil legal system. Time can also be mentorship, and mentorship is power.