Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why I do pro bono

A lot of people believe that all attorneys do is make a lot of money, serving their own interests and working towards billable hours.  Not all people, mind you, but it's a stereotype out there.  It's one that couldn't be any more wrong.  Sure, there are some of us out there who are like that, but really, not the great majority by any means.  Many many attorneys choose to enter the profession of law so that they can give back and help those less fortunate.  Some of them start out that way and then steer more towards the making the big bucks ideal.  But many of them never lose that focus.  Helping others.  I know that's why I chose to practice law.  And to this day, it is still the driving force behind what I do.

I have alluded to what I do before, but my job is to run a legal services agency in an eight county area in Indiana where we provide legal services to low-income and disadvantaged Hoosiers.  I'm the director of this agency, and it's my job basically to keep the agency afloat in an ever-changing economic climate, recruiting attorneys to take cases, and educating citizens about pro bono legal work.  For those of you who don't know, pro bono legal assistance is when an attorney takes on a case completely on a volunteer basis with no financial compensation for his/her work.  Some states require it of every attorney.  Indiana encourages it in its professional rules, but it's not a requirement.  Our volunteers take cases for our agency solely for the reason of helping others.  That's one of the reasons why I love what I do.  It's what I've always wanted to do.

In my first year of law school, I was driving back to school from visiting my then-boyfriend.  It was a beautiful Sunday, and I had just gotten on the highway, ready for a three hour trip home, drinking a fresh Frappacino and listening to some good music.  It was then I came across him.  The aggressive driver in a beat up pick-up truck.  He was riding my tail, and we were quickly approaching a construction zone, narrowing down to one lane.  I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of passing me, so I made it certain he would stay behind me.  Bad idea.  I came to a stop at a stoplight, just shy of the Interstate, when I looked up into my rearview mirror.  As if in slow motion, I saw his truck coming straight  for me.  He didn't even slow down.  He drove right into the back of my car at about 60 mph.  I don't remember much from that other than seeing his truck coming at me, trying to steer my wheel away from the car in front of me, and the sharp pain at the back of my head that hit me at the moment of impact.  The man was drunk and coming home from a camping trip.  Probably enjoyed a few cold ones before he left.  Luckily he was insured, and we exchanged information before the police took him away.  I was in so much pain the next few days, and I still suffer from chronic neck pain from that day.  However, I had to go back to law school that day, as I had a few tests coming up, so I pulled through.  The next day his insurance company called me and offered to come to my apartment, since I didn't have access to a car.  Two agents came to see me that afternoon, and I was completely overwhelmed.  I recall one of them saying that "a lot of people think that they've won the lottery when they have gotten in an accident."  It had been one day since my accident, and I was getting the good cop-bad cop act.  The next few days I kept getting phone calls from the insurance agents trying to get me to sign the piece of paper waiving my right  to try their client.  It was too much for a first year law student already struggling with the new pressure of law school. 

So where am I getting with this?  I swear I have a point. 

That week, I looked up several attorneys in the area and contacted them with my problem.  One attorney wrote back and offered to meet with me for free and discuss my problem.  He had a daughter in college and he was more than understanding as I explained what happened.  After giving him the full situation, he offered to handle the insurance company for me pro bono.  Completely free.  I was shocked.  I offered some form of payment, but his response?  "If you want to pay me, be sure that when you are an attorney you help someone out, too." 

Sure, my situation problem took him a couple hours total to handle, but it meant the world to me.  And what he said really stuck with me. 

I dedicate my career to helping those who are stuck in scary situations, not knowing what their rights are, how to handle their legal problem and just wanting someone to reach out a hand and help them.  And my agency helps people in these situations by referring them to attorneys who are looking to do just that.  

The other day, I coordinated a fundraiser where we worked with a local restaurant for a "dine to donate" program.  People who gave a flier for our organization to their server gave 20 percent of their meal cost to our agency.   T and I gave our server the flier, and I asked her if I could leave several others for her to give her customers.  She told us about how much legal aid helped her with her own legal problem in the past in a divorce and how much she appreciated the assistance of her attorney, one of our current volunteers.  She said he was an amazing man and she couldn't have gotten through it without his help. 

That's what I love about what I do.   Helping someone in a stressful time where they feel so lost and overwhelmed, no idea what to do in the legal arena, it means so much to me. 

And that...that is why I do pro bono. 


  1. I know a few attorneys who volunteer a lot of their services, they are definitely the saving grace of those who are in it for the money.

  2. You're amazing. That is all.


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