Alumnus Feature: Kyle Fiet '07

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Kyle Fiet

Name and Year of Graduation from UNC Law:

Kyle Fiet, Class of 2007

Place of Employment:

Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, DC

Area of Practice:

Government Contracts and Litigation

Favorite class/professor in law school:

Tough question. Probably Civil Procedure with Professor Broun or Contracts with Professor Jacoby.

Pro Bono Experience in Law School:

Unfortunately, not much.

What inspired or prompted you to start doing pro bono work in private practice?

When I started working in private practice, my firm really went out of its way to encourage associates who wanted to do pro bono work. The firm helped the incoming associates find pro bono projects and provided a lot of resources, both internally and through connections with legal service providers in the community, who could mentor us and provide guidance. I had always planned to make pro bono work part of my practice after law school, and I felt like Sidley gave us the opportunity to start doing pro bono work right away.

About a month after I started at the firm, I took my first pro bono case. We represented a woman whose landlord refused to make basic repairs to her apartment and was violating D.C.’s rent control laws. I helped her file an administrative complaint with the D.C. Rental Housing Commission and was first-chair at the hearing on her complaint. Since then, I’ve tried to be regularly involved in pro bono work.

What does your current pro bono practice look like?

I’ve been fortunate to work on a fairly broad range of pro bono matters. I’ve done a significant amount of work on various landlord-tenant cases. I also worked on an internal investigation for a non-profit organization regarding a potential misuse of funds by one of its directors. In another case, I worked with a team representing an individual who was facing prosecution for criminal libel after he allegedly made disparaging remarks about the county sheriff.

For the past few years, I’ve also spent about four hours a month working at the D.C. Bar’s Landlord-Tenant Resource Center. The Resource Center is a drop-in clinic, located in the courthouse, which provides information to unrepresented parties about D.C.’s landlord-tenant law and Landlord-Tenant court procedures. There was a recent study by the D.C. Bar, which showed that over 95% of tenants facing eviction in D.C are unrepresented. The goal of the Landlord-Tenant Resource Center is to provide parties who cannot afford representation with the information they need to better protect their rights.

Favorite or Most Significant Pro Bono Experience:

About two years ago, Sidley started a “loaned associate” partnership with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. As part of this partnership, Sidley sends one 4th- or 5th-year associate to work for four months, on a full-time basis, with Legal Aid’s Appellate Advocacy Project. The goal of the Appellate Advocacy Project is to argue potentially precedent-setting cases that can improve the lives of individuals in the District who are living in poverty.

In 2012, I was able to work for Legal Aid as part of this partnership. During the four months that I was there, I briefed three cases at the D.C. Court of Appeals, one of which I argued. In the first of these cases, we represented a tenant who had been sued by his former landlord for a relatively small amount of unpaid rent. After our client lost on summary judgment, the D.C. Superior Court ordered him to pay the landlord approximately $45,000 in attorneys’ fees based on a fee shifting provision in his lease. The tenant, who had been pro se in the Superior Court proceedings, went to Legal Aid for assistance, and we represented him on appeal. The D.C. Court of Appeals issued a nice decision for our client, which reversed the grant of summary judgment and held, more broadly, that all fee shifting provisions in residential leases in the District of Columbia are unenforceable.

In addition to that case, we represented a homeless resident of the District of Columbia who had been evicted for reporting the abysmal condition of his apartment to the city’s housing inspectors. We also filed an amicus brief in a child welfare case.

What motivates you to continue doing pro bono work?

This may sound like a simple answer, but really, the main thing that motivates me to continue doing pro bono work is the belief that it is the right thing to do. I’ve had clients, on more than one occasion, explain to me how they always knew they were “in the right,” but that without an attorney, they didn’t know what to do. My hope is that, by doing pro bono work, I’ve been able to improve their lives in some small way.

Beyond that, one thing I have appreciated about doing pro bono work has been getting to work with some truly amazing attorneys with whom I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to work. Within Sidley, doing pro bono work has given me the opportunity to work with and learn from attorneys outside of my immediate practice group who have become friends and mentors. Also, the attorneys I worked with at Legal Aid are simply phenomenal. I really can’t say enough about their level of talent, commitment, and sacrifice. At the risk of sounding excessive, they are some of the best attorneys in Washington, D.C., and I truly enjoyed being able to work with them and learn from their talent and examples.

How do you find your pro bono projects?

Our office has a full-time pro bono counsel who coordinates the pro bono activities in the office. She has a wide range of contacts with legal services providers in D.C., and she regularly sends out emails about potential pro bono opportunities. Most of the pro bono cases I’ve taken have come through her, although I’ve also been asked by individual partners in the firm to assist with pro bono matters as well. That said, associates in the firm are certainly free to find our own pro bono cases, and we can bring projects of interest to the firm for approval. I have personally been involved in a couple cases that originated in this way.

Do you think lawyers (or law firms) should be required to commit to pro bono service as a condition of licensure?

No. Every attorney’s circumstances are different, and the idea of a uniform pro bono requirement, while well intentioned, seems like the wrong approach. Perhaps I am naïve about it, but I like to think that most attorneys would do whatever pro bono work they can without it being mandatory. Also, I think that for many attorneys, there may be ways to provide community service in a non-legal setting that, depending on the circumstances, might have a greater potential for good than traditional pro bono work. I’m more comfortable letting individual attorneys decide what makes sense for them.

Posted by Kelly E. Anderson on Fri. January 31, 2014 11:03 AM
Categories: Alumni Features
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