For 17 years , Derek Kobayashi has dedicated so much of his spare time to free legal aid that it’s earned him the nickname “Mr. Pro Bono.”
“Since about 1998, I’ve always tried to maintain at least one active pro bono case as part of my load,” explains Kobayashi, 51, a litigation partner with the law firm Schlack Ito. “I grew up in Kalihi and Pearl City and I went to the UH Richardson School of Law on a tuition waiver, so I believe those of us who were given that opportunity should give back to the community.”
Sergio Alcubilla, director of external relations at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, raves about him. “Derek Kobayashi has been one of Legal Aid’s biggest supporters in terms of the volunteer work he’s done for our clients and for the community. He’s taken numerous pro bono cases, sits on various committees with the state Bar and the Judiciary to help increase access to justice for the most vulnerable, and still finds time to volunteer in the court self-help centers.”
What makes Kobayashi so passionate about helping the indigent? “In 1999, I took a case where a landlord was trying to garnish the welfare payments of a client to pay their back rent, which isn’t legal, and we prevailed.
“It’s hard to express that sense of gratitude you get from helping a client in needy circumstances, and the impact you can have on that person’s life. The clients are very appreciative.”