Skip to Content
Mobile Menu Button

“For the Public Good”: A Discussion with Judge Reginald K. Whitehead About the Importance of Pro Bono Work in the Legal Profession

I have always wanted to be an attorney. As a child, I watched shows like Perry Mason and Matlock with my late grandmother and typed up fake cases on my mother’s typewriter. At first, I did not know what type of law I wanted to practice, but I knew that I wanted to “help those who could not help themselves.” In fact, as an 18-year-old senior at Jones High School here in Orlando, I voiced my need to want to help the community in a scholarship interview for the 100 Black Men of Orlando. I was awarded that scholarship and, in the years following, after I matriculated through college, I have had the pleasure of having Judge Reginald K. Whitehead, the now president of 100 Black Men of Orlando, pour into me and be invested in my success.

Judge Whitehead, who has been a judge since 1994, is a circuit judge currently assigned to Juvenile Delinquency in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the University of Mississippi and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

I asked Judge Whitehead if he would be willing to meet with me and share some of his thoughts around pro bono work and the importance of it for young lawyers and even for lawyers who may have been practicing for a while.

I was thrilled to be able to be on the other side of the interview this time and to pick Judge Whitehead’s brain on this topic. So, let us get into it.

Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?

No. I didn’t. I had a Political Science degree and I had to make the decision to either go to graduate school or do something else. I was working at Pizza Hut in the summer at the University of Mississippi, and the Continuing Legal Education Opportunity Program was having a summer program there. I saw these new students on campus and followed them to the law school. I would sit there everyday, and the professor finally asked me if I wanted to participate in the program. I said, “Maybe.” He made me fill out the application because he brought it to Pizza Hut and gave it to me. When I filled it out, it was for the University of Florida the next year. So, I had to make the decision then of whether I was going to leave everything there in Mississippi and go to law school. I decided to go to law school.”

Did you always want to be a judge?           

No. [Laughs]. I loved practicing law. I started out as a prosecutor, and after three years, I did criminal defense work with my law school buddy who was nine years older than me. He knew a little more about the world because he worked before law school. We also did some domestic work, and we were the first firm in Orlando, other than John Morgan’s, to advertise on the radio.

We were in our fifth year of practice, and the work was great, but there’s a price to that. I worked all the time. At the time, Judge Belvin Perry, who had originally hired me at the State Attorney’s Office, told me that we hadn’t had a black male appointed to the bench since Judge Emerson Thompson, and that was in the 1970s. This was 1993. I was 32 years old, and I didn’t want to leave my buddy, but I decided that I would do it one time. I applied      one time, and I got it. I got the appointment, and it allowed me to spend more time with my family, and that was more important to me.”

Have you ever done pro bono work in your years as an attorney?

Yes. We were members of the Orange County Bar Association, and we could either pay or do pro bono work. We never paid. We got referral cases. My first legal job in law school was at the Legal Aid Society. I was in my second year of law school and did a paid internship at that time with Fredo Martinez, a lawyer there. We worked on a lot of civil cases, a lot of landlord/tenant stuff. People would get these solar panels on their houses back in the day and they were nowhere near what they are now and were kind of like scams. So, we (Legal Aid) represented a lot of those folks.

After becoming a judge, I became a member of the Florida Bar Foundation for 12 to 13 years.”

Is there any case that stood out to you that you have never forgotten?

The one I do remember was when we worked on a case where a company had come in and made renovations on a house, but none of the renovations were proper. The clients were making payments, but the company would not come back in and repair, so they ended up filing suit against the company. Of course, I was at Legal Aid in the summer, so I had worked on depositions and such, but it took a few months for the case to be completed. They eventually settled the case, and the company finished the renovations. The company also gave the family a place to stay while they were completing the job.

What it showed me with that case is that people take advantage of people in poverty. You think sometimes, well, they don’t have the resources. If it had not been for Legal Aid, they couldn’t have afforded an attorney because an attorney would have wanted some type of retainer. This wasn’t a contingency fee case. They would’ve needed money to litigate, and they had no money. That’s the biggest case that stood out to me.”

Why do you feel Pro Bono work is important, and what advice would you give attorneys regarding the need to pro bono legal work?

First of all, I would tell them to do it. Take a case. Once you see and are exposed, you will realize how important it is to be a lawyer and you will also realize that everyone doesn’t have access to lawyers like you may have. Impoverished people struggle. Even when you talk about personal injury cases, of course, their car may not be as expensive as maybe the average person, but it’s their car. Their cases may not be as big so lawyers sometimes shy away from them because their case may seem less valuable. However, pro bono work makes you become a better lawyer and appreciate what you have once you’ve represented people that need help. Those are just my thoughts.”

And there you have it folks. A word from the judiciary. I want to thank Judge Whitehead for taking the time out of his very  busy schedule to speak with me and continue to encourage those of us in this great profession.

The l term “pro bono,” short for pro bono publico, is a Latin term that means “for the public good.” I encourage and challenge every reader to consider doing pro bono work. Not only does the work grant access to justice to those who cannot afford it, but it can also be fulfilling as well in a profession that may at times seem chaotic.

For more information, or to take a case, please contact Kimberly Palmer at more information on becoming a financial donor or helping our fundraising efforts, please contact Donna Haynes, Development Director, at or 407-515-1850.

Kimberly Palmer, Esq, is a family law staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society at the Orange County Bar Association.  She has been a member of the OCBA since 2020.


Scroll To Top