Pro Bono Spotlight: Stephanie Drotar
For New York associate Stephanie Drotar, her passion for pro bono work involving disability benefits is personal. She and her family navigated the “complex and high stakes” process of securing these crucial social security benefits for her brother, who was disabled. Through her brother’s experience, she gained valuable insight into the challenges associated with obtaining these benefits through a system that is “fraught with inefficiencies,” as well as the “life changing” impact they can have on the people who need them.
“The financial hurdles that disabled individuals face on a daily basis really add up,” she explained. The accommodations required for them to accomplish basic and necessary functions can become a significant financial burden because, depending on their disability, they can’t just jump on the subway or make themselves dinner and instead have to find other (often more expensive) ways to go about their day-to-day lives. “These clients are people who need help with a process that is not very transparent and that can be very long and discouraging. The money they receive has the potential to improve their quality of life exponentially,” she said.
In Drotar’s experience, the administrative appeals that O’Melveny attorneys handle go from an initial client interview through a hearing in a few weeks. And having a lawyer to prepare the filings and appear before the administrative law judge often makes a huge difference in the results.
Not only has this work been personally rewarding, but she says it has also been instrumental in her professional development as a lawyer. Since taking on her first pro bono benefits case as a summer associate in 2013, Drotar has worked on four such cases, each time taking on responsibilities a level above her seniority. “Pro bono work allows you to stretch all the different muscles you have as a lawyer,” she says. “These cases offer a great opportunity for junior lawyers to grow.”