Acting Pro Bono at an Airport: The Journey of a Young Attorney in a Foreign Country [Sponsored Post]

An airport is probably one of the most boring places to be at. But as attorneys, we are often forced to travel and airports are rather comfortable. As a young attorney, the journey can prove to be incredibly anxious and confusing.

Lets face it; young attorneys are “ready for the kill”. Or in legal parlance, they often forget that there is “no duty to rescue”. Young attorneys are constantly trying to find solutions to problems, even when a problem does not exist. Call it an occupational hazard, but as an experienced attorney, you know when to intervene and when to just walk away from a situation.

Airport Security: Why Zoning Out Might Have Been A Better Idea 

Most foreign countries have strict security requirements. If you thought standing in one line to go through security was annoying, try two? In order to fly into the United States, most foreign airports have two security checkpoints. And when you are in Latin America, the second checkpoint can be rather invasive because we all know those stories where people placed drugs in places we shouldn’t be discussing on a public forum.

So on a rather pleasant Sunday morning, after meeting a limey friend who works for pryers-solicitors.co.uk, I, a young attorney witnessed a horrific incident in a Latin American country. As I stood in line for that infamous second security check, the lady in front of me was asked to step aside. My Spanish is rather basic so I quickly took out my iPhone to find my translation app.[1]

Just because you are a lawyer, it doesn’t mean you have superhuman powers

After two harrowing minutes, I realized that this poor girl, who happened to be an American citizen, was being questioned for drugs. This girl knew zero Spanish and claimed she had no drugs and was convinced the machine was faulty. I wanted to intervene; I wanted to help this girl. She had rights and I believed her when she said she had no drugs. But then questions starting ringing through my head: “ I am in a foreign country!”, “I am not licensed to practice law here”, “I take her case pro bono, this would look great on my profile?” “Can I ethically walk up to her and tell her that I would defend her?”, “What plausible “legal”  arguments did I have besides the fact that “maybe their machine was broken?”. I knew one thing and one thing only – this girl needed my help so I decided to intervene. I looked at security and declared in Spanish, “I am an attorney, what seems to be the problem?”

What was I thinking? I wasn’t Interpol, how dare I flash my make-believe badge? What ensued after this is a long story but lets just say, I created a scene, everyone now knew my name, and probably either wanted me as their attorney or wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t solve this girl’s problem and now airport security thought I had anger management issues and were threatening to keep me off the plane.

Key Takeaways:

  1. You are ALWAYS an attorney, 24-7. Legal ethics tell us, uncontrollable urges constantly remind us! That doesn’t mean everyone in front of you is a potential client.
  2. Acting pro-bono is both necessary and laudable. But know when to act in such capacity.
  3. Telling someone you are an attorney may not always act in your favor. Attorneys are respected globally but foreign countries usually have corrupt cops and the law means nothing to them.
  4. Practical Tip: Carry headphones. Listening to music will help you concentrate on your own issues!

[1] For more information on foreign language translation applications, please see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/technology/personaltech/the-utility-and-drawbacks-of-translation-apps.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, last visited on May 2, 2013.