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Pro bono work leads to political asylum, clean energy cases

April 5, 2012 | Alumni

Pro bono work has been part of Benton B. Bodamer’s practice since day one.

The 2006 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is a senior corporate associate in the Boston office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and he worked in the firm’s Dallas office before that. Bodamer is thankful to work for a firm that values pro bono work. Weil expects its attorneys to give at least 50 hours annually.

“Since I started, I think I’ve gone beyond the expectations a little bit,” Bodamer said. In fact, he usually contributes about 250 hours a year on average, more than 1,300 to date. “Give me a couple more years, and I will be able to say I’ve donated a year of free service.”

Bodamer has been tapped to be involved with the Boston office and the global firm’s pro bono committees. He also was named co-chairman of the Boston Bar Association’s business transactions section’s pro bono committee. Engaging in pro bono has multiple benefits that are not readily apparent at first, Bodamer said.

“Obviously there’s the public good,” he said, “but there’s also a benefit from learning from others who have taken similar cases – a mentoring aspect. It also benefits your personal network by exposing you to a wide range of interesting personalities, and it can actually be a good practice field for client development as well.”

Most importantly, he added, is that being involved in one’s community – seeing problems and identifying solutions in one’s backyard – is rewarding. “Because of your legal education, you have skills that can truly help the local community, and it is extremely gratifying to offer that help.”

Bodamer has pushed the boundaries of his practice through the different pro bono cases he has accepted.

In one, he helped a 14-year-old boy named Victor successfully gain asylum in the United States. After a gang killed a majority of his friends for refusing to join, Victor’s parents arranged for a human trafficker, or “coyote,” to smuggle the boy out of El Salvador. Soon after reaching the United States, Victor was arrested and detained.

The initial court proceeding was held in Harlingen, Texas, which was nearly 600 miles from Bodamer’s office in Dallas, requiring a two-hour plane trip. But the Weil team working on Victor’s case decided it was best to keep the proceedings there rather than transferring the case to Dallas, where the rate of political asylum granted was much lower. Their move was the right one, and, after a yearlong representation and multiple additional trips to Harlingen, Victor was allowed to stay.

“I do feel that we saved his life. He couldn’t have returned safely,” Bodamer said.

His pro bono work also extends into an area about which he feels passionately: the environment. Bodamer has interest in sustainable energy, including carbon markets and carbon finance, and he has helped several not-for-profit clients with the verification or certification of their carbon offsets.

“Climate change and clean energy aren’t just buzzwords; they are, respectively, the cause of and the solution to a growing list of global crises,” Bodamer said of his personal interest in that area of law. “Advising not-for-profits in the clean energy space has helped me to feel involved in the solution, rather than just watching the problems unfold.”

When not engaged in pro bono work, Bodamer’s primary practice at Weil involves representing large financial sponsors, private companies, and public companies. He counsels them in mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, and joint ventures. He also gives general advice on corporate legal issues. Corporate transactional law is an area that he did not overtly focus on in law school, but he has found an appreciation for the unique differences and needs of each company with which he works.

“The great irony: My worst grade in law school was the one class I took in corporate law,” he said with a laugh.

Another great irony from law school: He and his future wife didn’t particularly like each other as law students.

Jessica (Kling) Bodamer ’06 was the executive editor of the Ohio State Law Journal, and she found Bodamer to be an “overly opinionated” journal member when it came to getting his note published. “In many ways,” he recalled, “we were so similar, it was difficult to see past the mirror. I didn’t realize how abrasive I could be, until confronted with another personality that was just as strong-willed and confident.”

It was on a trip to Ohio in May 2010 that he ran into Jessica again. They had dinner and were engaged 13 weeks later. The couple celebrated their first anniversary on Oct. 22, 2011 with their daughter, Dempsey, who was born last summer.

This article was written by Monica DeMeglio.