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Alumni Spotlight

Big Law and Pro Bono: Barry ’15 Gives Back at Jones Day

By By Shannon Gorman

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Joseph Barry ’15 found the best of both worlds—in Cleveland. Right out of law school, he was offered a position at a large international law firm, with opportunities to work on complex litigation cases for major clients. Despite its size, the firm also provided a friendly, collegial work environment and the chance to do impactful pro bono work.

Barry is an associate with Jones Day, one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the United States. The Utica native ended up on the shores of Lake Erie at the recommendation of a fellow student on the Albany Law Review staff who was a summer associate at Jones Day's Cleveland office and enjoyed it immensely. Though Barry had no ties to Ohio, he applied for and got a summer associate position, and when the firm offered him a job after graduation, he jumped at it. "I just really liked the people I worked with there," he explained.

Jones Day has 43 offices, and the Cleveland office alone has around 200 attorneys. But its culture is not what you might expect in a law firm of its size, Barry said. "It has more of a laid-back feel, maybe because Cleveland is a smaller town, compared to Chicago, New York, or L.A."

Barry explained how the firm's structure reinforces the collegial culture: attorneys don't receive individual credit for bringing in new work, so colleagues are not competing for work or recognition. "We work as a team," he said.

As part of that team, Barry works on civil litigation, mostly representing large companies facing lawsuits. His recent clients include a large financial institution in litigation brought by investors, and a consumer reporting agency in litigation brought by consumers. For his current case, Barry is flying around the country defending depositions on behalf of his client. "The kinds of things I get to do for the case are very interesting," he said.

Thanks to the firm's—and his—commitment to doing good, Barry also had a chance to work on two cases for the Clemency Initiative, a national program that, from 2014 to 2017, provided pro bono legal representation to federal prisoners facing extremely long prison sentences for non-violent crimes. The volunteer attorneys put together compelling cases and petitioned the government to reduce or commute their clients' sentences.

One of Barry's clients was a first-time offender who committed a drug crime in his early 30s and was given a life sentence. "Part of our argument was that if he committed the same crime today, he would not receive that same sentence," he said. Barry also gathered letters of support from the client's community saying that he was a young person who had made a mistake but was otherwise a positive influence in the community. It helped that he had an excellent disciplinary record in prison.

The case was successful, and in 2017 the client received clemency and had his sentence reduced to five years remaining. He will be released from prison in the summer of 2022.

Barry is hoping to someday reengage in pro bono clemency practice—the Clemency Initiative ended when President Barack Obama left office in 2017. 

"I would love to do more work like this in the future," he said.