The Accidental Do-Gooder
How Seth Levy fell into trying to save the world
Published in 2008 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
on June 13, 2008
Updated on April 18, 2009
“I was not one of those people who went to law school to save trees or save children,” says Seth Levy, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. Still, Levy, who specializes in patent and intellectual property law, ended up a do-gooder of monumental proportions. Moreover, he has inspired his fellow lawyers to follow his example.
It all happened, he says, quite unintentionally.
During his first year at USC Law School, he volunteered for the legal clinic at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. From there, everything just sort of snowballed.
“It was always interesting to talk with people who were that socially conscious,” he says, “but it didn’t occur to me that I would have those sorts of avenues professionally.”
When it did occur to him, after his first legal clinic, he threw himself headfirst into pro bono. After building up the Pillsbury Winthrop pro bono committee, he transferred his skills to the Los Angeles office of Davis Wright. Under his leadership, its pro bono committee has been the top-performing office in the nationwide firm. He says lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles double and oftentimes triple the quarterly target of 3 percent of billable hours devoted to pro bono cases.
Levy is a four-time recipient of the Wiley W. Manuel Award for pro bono legal services from the California State Bar. In 2005, the state Bar honored him with the Jack Berman Award of Achievement, which recognizes a young lawyer who has provided outstanding service to the legal profession and the public.
Levy plays down his ability to energize his colleagues and instill in them the same sense of satisfaction that he derives from pro bono work. “Everybody has some community they want to help and there is no shortage of people who need free legal services,” he says. “Somehow, between those two worlds, there has to be a way to connect everybody with something.”