Joe Trunzo is an associate attorney at Dechert, LLP specializing in securitization transactions. He moved to Charlotte from New York to join the firm in 2014. Soon after, he began volunteering his pro bono services with Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s Legal Services for the Elderly program, helping seniors draft and execute estate planning documents, including wills, powers of attorney and healthcare powers of attorney documents. In his free time, Joe enjoys spending time with his fiancé, their dog, a Goldendoodle named Buddy, and their friends and neighbors in the community.
Summer intern Abby Mitchell conducted this interview.
When did you start volunteering with LSSP?
So, I started volunteering at the end of 2014. I moved down to Charlotte and started working at Dechert in May of 2014 and knew I wanted to do pro bono. I got involved through Jeanine Johnson who was the pro bono coordinator here at the time when she asked if I could help with some wills cases that had come in. I think it was November or October, and I just realized that I really enjoyed doing it, so now, almost any time a wills case comes in, I try to be the first guy to get it.
Yeah, it sounds like it would be really rewarding.
It is. You meet the people you’re working and for and so often they thank you right away. They say, “Thank you so much for doing this for me,” or “It means so much to my son,” or “I’m hoping this will take care of my grandson.” It’s just great. It’s such a contrast to what we do here. So often you can never really put a face to a name. It’s some guy in New York or some guy in London who’s calling you and you never meet him.
And you primarily volunteer with Legal Services for the Elderly correct?
Yeah, so the majority of the work that I’ve done are wills, power of attorney, and healthcare powers of attorney.
That’s such an interesting group because they’re so forward thinking about providing for other people in such a selfless way through estate planning.
Yeah it is. Putting a will together is not an easy thing to do. You’re forced to confront your own mortality. You have to get over that fear in order to take care of people that you care about. When you think about it it’s really a selfless thing to do.
How do you balance pro bono with having such a work-intensive job?
That’s a great question. The biggest thing is making it a priority. Typically when I do these wills, putting the three documents together takes anywhere from seven to 10 hours, sometimes less, sometimes more. Then getting them executed can be at least an hour if not more. I’ve had a couple of cases where clients have had tons of questions. We’ve had to go through things. We had to make changes on the fly, and that took 3 hours alone. And really there were so many occasions where I could have said, “I can’t make it today”, or “Hey, I know we scheduled to set this up for you on Friday morning but I can’t make it” but you just have to do it. You have to treat it like the work you do for the firm, because it is just as important. I think as long as you approach it with that mentality, you’ll always be able to balance it and find a place for it.
And you know, Dechert is really great about doing that. Every lawyer here has a requirement. I think it’s like 28 or 50 hours for every year that you have to do for pro bono in order to be in good standing with the firm. So when you’re getting that kind of support from the firm, it makes it a lot easier to say “I’m thinking about taking on a pro bono project this month.”
It seems like a lot of the law firms around here are really invested in that work, which I think is great.
Yeah that’s one of the coolest things I found about Charlotte. When I was up in New York, the law firms, all do pro bono work, but it wasn’t taken as seriously as it is here. Here, my firm is expecting me to do this, and I should be doing this as part of my development as a person, and part of my development as an attorney. And when you’re not getting that coordination with the higher ups at the firm, it also, then it becomes harder to prioritize it.
What do you enjoy the most about the pro bono work you do?
Really and it sounds so cliché and corny but it really is helping people. Being able to give people a sense of relief. That’s the thing I notice the most when we sign these things up. When people are done, they seem relieved. It’s like there’s this big weight being lifted off their shoulders. You know, I mean you probably live your whole life thinking I should probably put a will together. As you get older, it weighs on you even more.
When we’re able to provide that service for someone, you see that you’ve lifted something that has been troubling them.
Everyone is very appreciative and very thankful which is really cool. You learn about these people and the people that they care about. And so, learning, getting to know them and realizing again, that you’re able to provide this kind of relief by providing this service is the best part.
Do you think working on these cases provides different complications than your everyday job?
Oh yeah, yeah for sure. It’s just a different kind of problem that you never would really think about here. Like with the healthcare power of attorney stuff, people are faced with tough decisions, like if something were to happen, “Do I want to be put in a vegetative state?” You’re forced think about the legal implications of those decisions.
That has to be a really unique way to grow as an attorney also.
Yeah it is. It would be hard to find a lawyer who would say, “Oh I wanted to become a lawyer to represent these big international companies” No lawyer would ever tell you that. No, you wanted to be a lawyer because you wanted to help people. Thanks to LSSP and the pro bono work they offer. I can do that.
What advice would you give to attorneys that want to get involved in pro bono with LSSP or otherwise?
The advice I would give them is get involved as soon as you can. It really is rewarding. It really is such a refreshing change from what you typically do daily. I don’t care how busy you are, force yourself to make it a priority. There’s always time for it. We often like to think we work around the clock, and sometimes we do, but you can always find a half hour, or an hour, you can always find it. If you prioritize it, you always can. Pro bono work is just as important, and it is exponentially more rewarding than probably the work you do in the day to day.