Making Justice RealThe Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
Ready For a Challenge: Henry Smith
Henry Smith began his legal career as a Law Firm Fellow working at Legal Aid for approximately one year before joining Steptoe & Johnson in the fall of 2010. During his time at Legal Aid, Henry worked with Legal Aid’s Public Benefits Unit helping clients secure and maintain critical safety net benefits to which they are entitled.
It was clear from Henry’s very first days at Legal Aid that he was wholly committed to serving Legal Aid’s mission and client community. He exhibited a degree of skill, patience and perseverance working with clients that others only develop with years of experience. And in the intervening years, Henry’s commitment has not wavered.
During DC Pro Bono Week, we are posting profiles of some of the amazing pro bono attorneys who partner with Legal Aid to make justice real for individuals and families living in poverty in our community. Want to get involved? Contact Jodi Feldman.
As an associate at Steptoe, Henry maintains a robust pro bono practice, taking on the same types of public benefits cases that he handled while he was at Legal Aid — representing clients who are unable to work due to physical and/or mental health disabilities. He seeks out opportunities to work on some of the most challenging cases we see, both factually and procedurally complex cases, as well as working with clients who have severe mental health disabilities.
Most recently, Henry represented a client who is unable to perform his past work due primarily to the physical and psychological effects of having been tortured several years ago in his native country. The client had waited years for a hearing, and when the day finally came, the Administrative Law Judge informed Henry and his client on the spot that she was going to issue a fully favorable decision and expedite the process so Henry’s client would begin receiving benefits as soon as possible.
“I had such good training at Legal Aid, I wanted to keep using the knowledge and skills I gained,” said Henry. “There is a huge demand for pro bono attorneys to represent Social Security disability claimants at administrative hearings.”
In his regular practice, Henry counsels clients on international regulatory and trade matters. Although at first blush, one may not see much similarity between this work and handling Social Security disability cases, Henry notes that both involve significant client interaction and representing clients before government agencies.
His pro bono work has helped Henry build skills that he uses in his practice every day. But, there is more to it than that: “I have lived in DC since middle school, and I enjoy helping the local community,” noted Henry. “And, on an individual basis, it is incredibly rewarding to see how my representation can have such a positive impact on my clients’ lives.”