In what way does building a bicycle make you a better lawyer? In more ways than you might think.
Just ask the 68 first-year lawyers who attended a two-and-a-half-day long orientation at V&E’s Houston office this past September. On top of learning about the inner workings of the firm, the young attorneys spent an afternoon dressed in t-shirts and jeans building bikes for underprivileged kids.
The message for V&E’s newest recruits: “We love having you here. We’re looking forward to you being productive, and to you contributing to the firm,” said Jim Reeder, who addressed the group before they got to work. “But there’s a reminder that the firm has three constituents: its clients, our people, and the third, equally important constituent group — our communities.”
This is the second year that V&E has incorporated a community event into its orientation programming. Last year, first-years loaded backpacks and lunchboxes for kids in need, in partnership with Kids Meals, a Houston nonprofit organization that delivers free healthy meals to preschool-aged children.
“It got such a good response that we decided to make community service part of our new attorney orientation,” said Brooke Johnson, a professional development manager at V&E, and one of the organizers of the firm’s orientation program.
“It was very exciting, because some of our kids have never had bikes. Especially for our little ones, it’s possibly the first bike they have ever received.”
Teamwork in motion
Lawyers aren’t necessarily known for their mechanical skills. But by drawing on problem-solving skills and teamwork, the V&E crew got the job done. Bike-making experts were also on-hand to provide guidance when needed.
The 68 lawyers were broken up into 12 groups. Within each team every member had a role to play whether that meant reading instructions, fusing bike parts, or writing and decorating notes for the kids.
“They had to, first off, figure out whose strength is what, and how are we going to get this done. Some people were good at reading instructions, while other people would have just put it together without ever looking at an instruction,” Reeder said. “There was some amount of instinct, and then some amount of precision that was required, and some amount of throwing your hands up and asking for help.”
It was easy to see how the new lawyers would be using these same skills to handle client matters.
“It’s no surprise to us that these young people handled this particular issue in the way they did,” Reeder said. “You recognize what your strengths are, you recognize the strengths of others. You bring them together in a way that brings the most efficient, thorough, and competent understanding of the issues to bear on whatever it is you’re addressing. Those are the characteristics that contribute to being great lawyers.”
A surprise for the lawyers and for the kids
As the first-years worked on their projects, they had no idea that the recipients of the bikes — members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston — were assembled in a V&E conference room enjoying snacks. The kids, aged six to twelve, didn’t know they were about to receive the bikes until they were brought downstairs to the lobby of the V&E building.
“It was very exciting, because some of our kids have never had bikes. Especially for our little ones, it’s possibly the first bike they have ever received,” said Dekeita Frazier, Club Director of Allen Parkway Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston.
An added bonus: the children had an opportunity to interact with the lawyers. “Our kids love meeting new people,” Frazier said. “They are very excited to talk to people about things that they do in the workforce.”
For V&E first-year Morgan Kelley, who works in the firm’s Washington D.C. office, a high point of the Build-A-Bike event was seeing the expressions on the kids’ faces as they were handed their bicycles. Kelley and her team spent time with Dolce, the girl who received the bike they built, and went with her as she took her bike for a test drive.
“We learned about her siblings and family,” Kelley said. “She even showed us her secret stash of snacks in her pockets!”
Austin Pierce, a first-year associate in V&E’s Houston office, liked the idea that the project had an immediate positive impact on the kids.
From bikes to future pro bono projects
Both Kelley and Pierce said the Build-A-Bike event is just the starting point for their pro bono efforts at V&E. Kelley, who studied international law of human rights in law school, wants to focus her pro bono work on children’s asylum cases.
Pierce is also interested in immigration matters. Closer to home, he is helping to assess the degree to which victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico still require legal assistance.
“Beyond that, I hope to get involved with helping cultural and arts organizations, as well as some start-up ventures,” he said. “With the ample opportunities provided through V&E, I’m excited to be involved in more success stories all around.”