Career Spotlight: Sylvia Walbolt
As a young lawyer in the beginning of her career, Walbolt intently watched her mentor and UF Law alumnus William Reece Smith, Jr. (JD 49), who is known as Mr. Pro Bono throughout the country, provide legal counsel for the less fortunate. Seeing the difference he made in individuals’ lives and the satisfaction he received from his experience, Walbolt was motivated to do her part as a lawyer.
A proud “Double-Gator,” Walbolt’s motivation to help the poor stems from her strong belief that lawyers are very privileged to have the opportunity to practice law and have the obligation to uphold their oath of office by assisting the oppressed. “There are so many unmet legal needs of the true disadvantaged,” she said.
Although Walbolt has spent 44 years in the private sector at Carlton Fields in Tampa, Fla., she said she considers her pro bono work as the “single most satisfying part of her law career” and has the full support of her firm.
Carlton Fields prides itself as an advocate for pro bono causes by providing the same caliber work for pro bono clients as billable clients. Walbolt said her pro bono work is very gratifying because cases are not only won for individuals but also for the justice system itself. “It truly shows that the system works no matter whom the case involves,” she said.
As a lawyer at a law firm that is dedicated to helping the poor, Walbolt has represented individuals in various pro bono cases, including representing migrant workers, the mentally ill and individuals on death row. Defending individuals on death row is a challenge but a “sobering experience,” Walbolt said. These cases are especially difficult because the clients are often not nice people, but the justice process still ought to work, she added.
Walbolt challenges all lawyers to use their licenses to practice law to do their part in helping the poor. She also emphasized that trial lawyers are not the only lawyers who can do pro bono work. All lawyers regardless of their specialty can do some sort of pro bono work. It’s all about making a difference in an individual’s life, whether it involves going to retirement communities on Saturday mornings to help senior citizens file for social security or volunteering with guardian ad litem, Walbolt said.
In addition to her achievements as a shareholder of Carlton Fields, the demonstrated champion of pro bono causes has won numerous awards for her work, including the 2007 Florida Bar Presidents Pro Bono Service Award, ABA Section of Litigation 2006 John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award, and Stetson University College of Law 2005 Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Public Service Award.
Although she enjoys her significant role in her pro bono cases, Walbolt said balancing her private firm work and pro bono caseload is no easy task. “But, if you want something done, give it to a busy person,” Walbolt said.