Volunteer Attorney Helps “Davids” Battle “Goliaths”


The Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) thanks Katharine Chao, May Volunteer of the Month, for representing litigants in federal court with the Federal Pro Bono Project. Chao values pro bono service as a way to “prevent Goliath from taking advantage of David.” She loves standing up to bullies, as she did for one recent JDC client.

From left, Chief Justice of California Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and Katharine Chao

Chao, who in private practice advocates for plaintiff employees at Chao Legal, represented a terminated employee seeking pro bono services through JDC. While the employee had litigated his wrongful termination case on his own for years, his former employer had a reputable firm as counsel. Chao worked to correct this disadvantage and answered discovery, developed theories of liability and represented the employee at mediation. Though he had a difficult case, Chao was determined to see him treated with dignity.

It was hard for Chao to enter the case at a later stage when things could have been different if the employee had had counsel earlier. However, she notes that “you take cases the way they come,” and persevered to resolve the case for her client.

For Chao, volunteering is challenging when she has to tell a low-income person that he or she will have difficulty finding a private attorney because a civil rights claim isn’t worth much money. Chao observes, “Justice shouldn’t depend on money but sadly it often does. This is why JDC is so important – to fill in the gaps.”

Chao’s pro bono work serves an admirable goal of hers – to increase public confidence in lawyers. Since “lawyers are the ones who make sure the powerful do not walk over the vulnerable and that justice is served, volunteering contributes to the public good.”

Originally from Southern California, Chao was won over by the bay area’s community and natural beauty when she attended UC Berkeley. She lives in San Francisco with her family, loves to cook and ski, and indulges in watching The Bachelor and all its related franchises. JDC thinks Chao’s off duty luxuries are hard earned and we thank her for her pro bono service!

If you’d like to volunteer with JDC’s Federal Pro Bono Project, contact Supervising Attorney Manjari Chawla at MChawla@sfbar.org or 415-626-6917.