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Kiva Zytnick Discusses the Importance of Facilitating Opportunities for Future Public Interest Leaders

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 Kiva Zytnick is the Pro Bono Coordinator at The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law and a member of the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee.

Did you always know you wanted to be involved in pro bono and public interest law work?

When I was a law student, I knew that I wanted to do public interest work—that’s why I went to law school. But, I don’t think I quite understood the difference between public interest and pro bono. Now, as the Pro Bono Coordinator at CUA Law, I try to emphasize the distinction with my students. Pro bono work provides lawyers the opportunity, no matter what type of law they practice, to give back to their community with their unique legal skills. I advise all of my students to always think about how they can build pro bono into their practice.

Kiva Zytnick is interviewed by Equal Justice Works Communications Intern Catherine Williams

In your current role, you help law students pursue their own public service passions through the Columbus School of Law’s Pro Bono Program. What is it about participating in pro bono opportunities that is so important for law students?

I believe that lawyers have a professional and ethical responsibility to use their legal skills to advance the public interest and expand access to justice. And I believe that duty begins in law school. Another point I emphasize to my students is that pro bono work is also incredibly beneficial for the volunteer. You get valuable hands-on experience, exposure to areas of law that you might not have had otherwise, an opportunity to build your résumé, a network of people you can tap into for future jobs, and even preparation for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. It is also a wonderful way to learn about the community around you, about your fellow law students and peers, and about yourself. One of the other things I talk to students about is that you’re not just a law student, you’re a whole human being. Pro bono can be a really great way to fulfill yourself outside of the classroom.

What advice do you give to students who want to become involved in pro bono work but don’t know where to start?

People often don’t know where to begin. It sounds very simple, but you just need to take a deep breath and just jump in. I would suggest starting with whoever runs the pro bono program at your school, or if you don’t have one, your career services office. As part of my job, I provide pro bono resources and counseling to students. I talk through what interest areas they have, what skills they want to be building, and what works with their schedule. I am lucky to be in Washington, D.C., because there is a wealth of opportunities and legal service providers in this city to connect students with.

Likewise, what advice can you give to law school professionals who are interested in creating or growing a successful pro bono program at their law school?

Communication is key. Engaging with students isn’t always easy—they can be hard to reach. I have gotten creative about engaging students. Try both in person and online options to maximize the ways to reach students.

One of my goals for this year is to continue to grow the pro bono and public interest community on campus. A method where I’ve had success is peer-to-peer communication. I have encouraged students to talk to their peers because they often listen to each other more than they listen to me. I encourage students to bring a friend with them when they go to a legal clinic where they do pro bono. One example that occurred just this week: I posted an opportunity in a GroupMe chat for students interested in pro bono and public interest work. Later in the day, one student who volunteers with the organization commented about how great of an opportunity it was. Within a few hours, three more students had signed up.

Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee

I want to keep getting the word out about the amazing, fantastic resources that Equal Justice Works has. It is really incredible the wealth of resources the organization provides to law students and law service professionals. I also want to keep focusing on the National Advisory Committee’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. I really appreciate how Equal Justice Works is thinking creatively about getting these resources out to first-generation law students who often really do not know where to begin and do not have that personal network.

I believe that lawyers have a professional and ethical responsibility to use their legal skills to advance the public interest and expand access to justice.

Kiva Zytnick /
National Advisory Committee Member

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow