‘Pro Bono Paladin’ Mark Surprenant lives up to the moniker
Published in 2021 Louisiana Super Lawyers magazine
on December 28, 2020
Updated on January 6, 2021
There are pro bono partners and there are pro bono coordinators, but there’s only one pro bono paladin. Mark Surprenant had the title bestowed upon him by a fellow lawyer at Adams & Reese to honor Surprenant’s hands-on leadership. “It’s certainly different, that’s for sure,” he says with a laugh.
The of counsel attorney at the firm’s New Orleans office has been involved in pro bono work since volunteering at the Rhode Island Legal Aid Society after his first year of law school, but his interest intensified after his wife, Monica, suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 2002.
“She was at the top of the legal profession in New Orleans one day,” he says, “[and] the next day, after having the aneurysm, she couldn’t talk and had to go through two years of speech therapy. … She made an unbelievable recovery. If you met her, you would probably never even know she had the aneurysm.
“When you’ve been blessed to a significant extent, you have an obligation to do more to help people. Not just talk about helping people, but to actually get involved and do as much as you can.”
Access to justice is one of Suprenant’s key focuses. Housing is another. Over the past few years, he’s represented people victimized by fraudulent contractors, as well as those living in substandard conditions with unresponsive landlords. “Sometimes it takes a lawyer to make a few phone calls or file a lawsuit to get some action,” says. “There’s a lot of stories about people who just have to live in conditions that you and I would never, ever put up with, and they have to do that because they feel like they have no voice. They have no way to put any type of pressure on the owner of the apartment or building to do anything.
“Those are the cases I enjoy the most, because if you can do something positive for the people that feel like they are totally shut out of the legal system and are at a point where they have no place to turn, it can be life-changing.”
As the president of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Surprenant has the chance to influence the next generation of paladins, working directly with younger staffers on their cases. He offers this advice for lawyers who want to jump on the pro bono bandwagon: “The thing that I would stress is it should be something you’re enthusiastic about being involved in—something where you really want to use your talents and abilities to the fullest, and you enjoy doing it. You should really be very, very enthusiastic about what you do. And if you are, you’re probably going to end up with a really, really good result.”