To say that Zachary Ludens, JD ’14, is committed to pro bono work is an understatement. Less than two years out of law school, Ludens has already shown his dedication to use his law degree to help defend the rights of vulnerable populations across the country. Eager to make an impact from his first day as an associate at Carlton Fields in Miami, he has assisted in the representation on crucial litigation fighting for equal educational opportunities for children in disadvantaged schools in California, advocated to protect the civil rights of prisoners in Florida, and worked to advance the rights of the LGBTQ community.
During his time at Miami Law, Ludens was a Miami Scholar. Additionally, he was a four-time Dean’s Fellow through the Academic Achievement Program, working with Professors Felix Mormann, Robert E. Rosen, and Mary I. Coombs. Further, Ludens served as the Chief Presiding Officer of the Miami Law Honor Council, was the Interschool Competition Chair for the Mock Trial Team, the Senior Writing Editor of the University of Miami Law Review, and the President of Alpha Epsilon Lambda.
In deciding where to study, Ludens visited Miami Law’s campus. He vividly recalls observing a first-year Constitutional Law course. Sitting in an absent student’s seat, the professor mistakenly called on Ludens. Students in the class quickly jumped in to help him, passing him a highlighted passage of the text and making light of the situation. Ludens was impressed with the humor and collegiality of both the students and the professor in what could have been an uncomfortable situation. He could immediately tell that Miami Law provided an environment where he could see himself thriving. His first experience with the Socratic Method, rather than scaring him off of law school, helped make the decision of where to attend law school an easy one.
Once at Miami Law, Ludens wasted no time in getting involved with public interest opportunities that he found meaningful and fulfilling. He worked on various pro bono and community service projects through the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center — so many in fact that he was awarded the HOPE Excellence in Community Service Award for the most community service hours logged among his graduating class. He was also an active member of the Public Interest Leadership Board and chaired multiple committees as a 2L and 3L.
But Ludens’ comfort in the courtroom began even before he entered Miami Law. As an undergraduate student in South Dakota, he spent two years working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he assisted in preparing cases for trial. Ludens still reflects on his time at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and recalls the zealous, yet compassionate, mentors that first inspired him to enter the legal field. This experience led to an interest in pursuing a joint law and communications degree and to apply to Miami Law’s highly competitive Miami Scholars program.
“Unlike many public interest programs around the country, the Miami Scholars program does not require you to sign a pledge that you will not go to work for a private law firm,” said Ludens. “Through the program, I met so many private practice attorneys that engaged in pro bono, and Dean Lennon encouraged me to go the route that I did. Dean Lennon and Miami Law understand that public interest also involves pulling in private practice individuals to help the less fortunate.”
Ludens believes that the depth of experience he has been able to attain so early on in his career was only possible because he is practicing in a big law firm setting. On his first day on the job, he was able to dive in and start working on several pro bono cases including a class action lawsuit brought by Carlton Fields’ Los Angeles office in collaboration with ACLU, The Public Counsel Law Center, and Arnold & Porter, in which they partnered to sue the state of California over failures to provide a meaningful education to inner-city children.
Ludens was also actively involved in the firm’s representation of same-sex couples challenging Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage in state court prior to same-sex marriage becoming legal in Florida in 2015. He has continued to fight for LGBTQ rights and assisted in the appeal of a same-sex divorce case with a complex standing question. In addition, he has taken on a number of civil rights actions on behalf of prisoners. In one such pro bono case, his client was attacked by a police dog while being arrested on suspicion of petit theft and was severely injured.
In addition to his pro bono work, Ludens focuses his practice in complex commercial litigation. This includes particular interests in technology, intellectual property, drones, and insurance coverage and litigation. He recently assisted in the trial of his first jury case on a trademark issue and prevailed.
Ludens’ advice to current students interested in doing pro bono work in the private sector is to take a hard look at the pro bono work that is currently being done at the firm you are considering. If the firm says they are committed to pro bono work, make sure pro bono work is actually being done by associates in the office. Once at a firm, Ludens recommends not being afraid to reach out and ask people if you can get involved.
“If you see someone working on an interesting case, send an email and ask them how you can help,” said Lundens. “Do not be afraid to go to a partner and tell him or her that you want to make a meaningful impact and get practical experience early on.”
Original Article published at Miami Law on March 8, 2020 by Sara Baez.